Toronto Raptors v New York Knicks

The Raptors and Knicks came together for a truly ugly game of basketball on Wednesday night at The Garden, but Toronto came out on the right side of that slug fest to carry a four-game winning streak into the All-Star break.

Here are some thoughts on the game…

Raptors 92, Knicks 88

- So how ugly was it? Well, the two teams started the game shooting a combined 2-for-18, finished the game shooting a combined 59-of-152, the Knicks shot less than 72 per cent from the free throw line, the teams combined for six technical fouls and Kyle Lowry was ejected in the third quarter for picking up two of those techs. Oh, and the two teams combined for just 24 assists on those 59 made field goals, which gives you an indication of how stagnant both offences were.

- What I found most comical about this painfully slow game is that in the Game Thread, I mentioned that I was looking forward to watching Rudy Gay match up against Carmelo Anthony, Jonas Valanciunas match up against Tyson Chandler and was also looking forward to seeing whether Andrea Bargnani could come close to returning to form in an arena that’s usually been kind to him. Well Gay and Anthony combined for a paltry 23 points on 9-of-45 shooting, Valanciunas and Chandler combined for 10 points and nine fouls (JV was actually held scoreless in 13 minutes), and Andrea Bargnani stunk up the joint with two points, a block and a turnover in less than 12 minutes of action. Basically nothing I was looking forward to monitoring in this game was even slightly entertaining.

- Rudy Gay was obviously awful from the field in shooting an embarrassing 4-of-21, but the effort was there. Rudy definitely took some bad shots, but he also missed a bunch of “gimmes” around the basket, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out four assists and played some solid defence. There was one play in particular that stands out from the fourth quarter where after a Raptors turnover, Gay chased down Anthony the entire length of the court and then contested a shot at the basket without committing a foul.

Again, I’m not excusing his horrible shooting night, but I think I speak for most fans when I say that bad shooting nights from star players are a lot easier to take when said player actually looks like he gives a crap out there and looks to impact the game in other ways. Of course, they’re also a lot easier to take when your teams wins.

- Landry Fields celebrated his engagement with a return to the starting lineup against the small-ball Knicks and gave the Raptors some solid minutes for the second straight night. In addition to his 10 rebounds in less than 24 minutes, Fields’ defence on Anthony is what stood out to me in Landry’s game. You have to wonder if Fields took that match up with his former teammate personally.

The guy who Fields replaced in the starting lineup – Amir Johnson – also did a surprisingly good job defending ‘Melo when given the chance. In the fourth quarter, Amir ended up guarding Anthony on a number of possessions, with Carmelo just unable to beat Johnson off of the dribble. Kudos to RaptorBlog’s very own Oliver Macklem, who was telling me all night that Amir could guard Anthony before the encounter actually happened.

- The personal foul that led to Kyle Lowry’s frustration and subsequent second technical/ejection was a bad call, but Lowry has to be smarter than that when it comes to saying anything to the officials while you’re team is locked in a tight game and you’re already playing with one technical. Luckily, the ejection didn’t cost the Raptors.

- And on that note, how about John Lucas III, who came up clutch in the second half for the third straight game? Most impressive of all though was Alan Anderson, who definitely seems to have found his shooting stroke again with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting Wednesday after his hot fourth quarter on Tuesday night. Much like they have for the last couple of games, Anderson and Lucas hit some big shots for Toronto down the stretch.

- For the second straight game, DeMar DeRozan gave the Raptors a much needed lift. After settling for too many long jumpers in the first quarter, DeRozan attacked the basket the rest of the way and finished with an impressive 20 points on just 11 field goal attempts, thanks to 10-of-10 shooting from the charity stripe. Over his last nine games, DeMar is getting to the line 6.8 times per contest and is converting at an 88.5 per cent rate once there. That’s an encouraging trend as the 23-year-old slowly develops the other areas of his game.

- Terrence Ross played less than four minutes in this game, and yet he was a team-worst -11 while going 0-for-2 from the field and picking up two quick fouls. It was as ugly a performance as we’ve seen from the rookie, as even his defence has slipped recently (he’s biting on every single pump-fake thrown at him). Maybe it’s just a case of a youngster looking past the task at hand and on to the All Star festivities he’ll be taking part in. Whatever the case, let’s hope Ross returns from the All Star break ready to win back some of these lost minutes.

- I’m not at all suggesting that the Raptors are better than the Pacers and Knicks simply because they beat those teams, but if there’s one thing the two wins on the road in Indiana and New York should remind us of, it’s that the Eastern Conference really isn’t that great outside of Miami and a fully healthy Chicago. Sure, teams like the Knicks, Pacers, Nets and others are solid, but they really have no business being in contention for a No. 2 seed in a Conference.

Making the jump from lottery fixture to playoff team is tough, but making the jump from mere playoff team to top-four seed is supposed to be a lot tougher, and in the Eastern Conference, I just don’t get the sense that it is.

- The Raptors head into the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak and a 5-2 run in the Rudy Gay Era, which includes home wins over the Clippers, Hornets and Nuggets, impressive road wins over the Pacers and Knicks and losses to the defending champion Heat and a Celtics team that was in the midst of a six-game winning streak. Not to mention, if not for a horribly missed foul on DeMar DeRozan in the dying seconds, the Raptors might have had a shot to beat the Hawks in Atlanta on the night the trade went down. Add it all up, and this team is certainly playing some encouraging ball and entering the break on a serious high.

Raptors Player Of the Game: Alan Anderson – 26 Pts, 10/16 FG, 6/8 3PT, 1 Reb, 3 Ast, 2 TO in 29:46

Knicks Player Of the Game: J.R. Smith – 26 Pts, 8/17 FG, 5/10 3PT, 5/8 FT, 4 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 TO in 33:56