New York Knicks v Toronto Raptors

The Raptors were tested late after blowing another fourth quarter lead, but they responded in impressive fashion to win their sixth game in the last seven outings.

Here are some thoughts on the game…

Raptors 100, Knicks 98

- That’s the Rudy Gay the Raptors traded for. Gay settled for too many contested jumpers and long twos in the first half without being much of a factor, looking very much like the frustrated player he was in the second half against the Grizzlies. I’m not sure if something was said by the coaching staff during halftime or if Gay simply took it upon himself to step up, but he was a different player in the second half, particularly in the game-changing third quarter. Rudy scored 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting in a third frame that saw Toronto outscore New York 31-18 and grab control of the game heading into the fourth. Then down the stretch of the fourth quarter, Gay attacked the basket on nearly every touch and finally started to draw fouls. In the end, he finished with his most impressive performance as a Raptor so far, totaling 32 points, seven rebounds and 11 free throw attempts, with 26 of those points and eight of those free throw attempts coming in the second half.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that being an NBA “closer” is about a lot more than just hitting a game-winning or game-tying shot in the final seconds. Well Gay’s second half performance tonight was as impressive, if not more so, than his couple of game winners against the Pacers and Nuggets.

- While Gay’s heroics should be noted, let’s not forget that it was Kyle Lowry who put the Raptors ahead for good on a running hook shot with 28 seconds left on the clock. What I especially loved about the sequence was that after the shot, when the Knicks called timeout and Lowry ran back to the Raptors’ bench, John Lucas was setting up for a mid-air chest bump when Lowry made a “calm down” type motion with his hands and calmly walked back into the huddle. He knew the job wasn’t done yet and that it was too early to celebrate, something many players don’t seem to grasp in those moments.

I also liked how Lowry picked his spots in this game. In the first quarter, he kept the Knicks’ defence honest by knocking down four three-pointers as soon as they gave him even a little bit of space. But in the second half and especially down the stretch, Lowry looked for his teammates and drove the ball instead of settling for longer jumpers. Kyle finished with a nice balanced stat-line of 15 points on 11 field goal attempts, seven assists, one steal and zero turnovers.

- A big part of the reason the Raptors blew a 13-point lead in the latter stages of the third quarter and early stages of the fourth was because Lowry was resting during that time and Lucas was running the team’s offence. As I’ve stated a countless number of times recently, when Lucas isn’t hitting his shots he can be an offence killer because of the lack of ball movement he initiates. Tonight, he scored 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, recorded a turnover, failed to record an assist and posted a +/- of -13 in just 14:23 of playing time. Suffice to say, those aren’t the numbers of a backup point guard and should serve as a reminder why the Raptors wanted to address their point guard depth at the trade deadline.

- I also didn’t like the fact that Lowry sat for so long in the fourth quarter while Lucas clearly wasn’t effective running the point tonight. Lowry was substituted with the Raptors up 12 and 2:22 remaining in the third quarter. At the 9:08 mark of the fourth quarter, the Knicks were capping a 16-6 run to cut the lead to two and the Raptors were forced to call a timeout. It was a good timeout by Dwane Casey, but it was also a perfect time to reinsert Lowry as he already had over five minutes of game time worth of rest, not to mention about 10 minutes worth of real time. Instead, Lucas stayed in the game until there was just 6:09 remaining and the Raptors now found themselves down two.

I suppose it all worked out in the end, and I love the effort and defensive intensity Casey is getting out of this team, but he still rides certain guys way too deep into the fourth quarter for my liking in tight games like this one.

- I was completely fine with Casey’s decision to go with Amir Johnson down the stretch over Jonas Valanciunas, but I did want to point out that I’m happy with the minutes Valanciunas is giving the Raptors to start games. Lately he’s been making his presence known early on defence and especially on the glass, and the Raptors aren’t giving anything up by having him start games. In the seven games since Jonas started logging regular minutes again (since the win in Indiana), the big rookie is averaging 7.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in about 23-and-a-half minutes per game. He grabbed 10 rebounds and recorded two blocks in 21 minutes tonight.

- It won’t show up in the boxscore, but Landry Fields gave the Raptors good minutes tonight. Fields got the start after defending Carmelo Anthony well in New York last week, and he came through on the defensive end again. With Landry guarding him for the first eight minutes of the game, Anthony started 2-of-8 from the floor with a couple of turnovers before Fields got into foul trouble. ‘Melo then got in a groove and got pretty much whatever he wanted until he found himself guarded by Fields again for stretches of the second half. Credit to Casey for a good coaching decision at Madison Square Garden last week and for sticking with it again tonight, and credit to Fields for being up to the challenge of stopping a talented scorer. You know there just has to be at least a little bit of bad blood between Landry and Carmelo.

- I don’t support booing a home team player to start the game or when they first enter a game, but I fully support booing a player when the paying customer feels said player isn’t putting forth the required effort, and that’s exactly what’s going on with Andrea Bargnani in Toronto right now. Bargnani was booed and jeered for the majority of his 12:52 of floor time tonight and he responded with zeros across the board. If it wasn’t for a couple of missed shots and a personal foul, no record of Andrea Bargnani being alive to even witness this game would have existed, let alone a record of him playing in the damn game.

I get that his role has changed and that he missed a lot of time only to be derailed by the flu when he finally did return, but none of those things can even come close to justifying a player with Bargnani’s talent recording a measly zero points, two rebounds, a steal and a block in his last 35 minutes of action. That’s simply a disgrace to his teammates who are putting in the work, his coaching staff and the Raptors organization, not to mention the nearly 20,000 people who paid for tickets. Hearing Bargnani get jeered at home may seem harsh in the moment, but it’s completely understandable for a guy who’s brought it on himself.

- Other than the reaction to Bargnani, the second straight sellout crowd was great. The 19,800 in attendance were loud and energetic from the opening tip while spending the majority of the final few minutes on their feet. It reminded me once again that when it comes to sporting events in Toronto, no atmosphere quite compares to a sold out Raptors game. Now if only we were rewarded with a winning basketball team. Imagine the pandemonium then…

- I mentioned in the Game Thread that when good teams go through the stretch the Knicks are in and take a beating the way New York did in Indiana on Wednesday, they usually respond by making a statement against teams like the Raptors. So perhaps tonight’s Raptors’ victory should serve as another reminder that this Knicks team just isn’t that good. They’re an aging, talented team who got off to a great start (18-5) and have come back to earth since, going 14-15 over their last 29 games.

It also remains pretty clear to me that while Carmelo Anthony usually gets the hype, Tyson Chandler is actually the most valuable player for the Knicks, as in the most important to the team’s success. Chandler’s defensive impact is immeasurable, as the fact that a team who starts three point guards and Anthony on a nightly basis can even be a middle of the pack defensive team speaks to Chandler’s value.

Raptors Player Of the Game: Rudy Gay – 32 Pts, 11/23 FG, 1/4 3PT, 9/11 FT, 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 TO in 41:21

Knicks Player Of the Game: Carmelo Anthony – 32 Pts, 11/24 FG, 1/8 3PT, 9/11 FT, 6 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 3 TO in 42:13

The Raptors have a rare weekend off to prepare for a critical week of games against the Wizards, Cavaliers, Pacers and the eighth-seeded Bucks, and to hopefully get Sebastian Telfair at least somewhat acclimated to the team’s offence.