This is more than your ordinary slump. The Toronto Raptors fell 103-98 to the lowly New York Knicks in a shameful display of poor judgement and persistent flaws. Heading into this contest, Toronto had lost four in a row and opted to sit out Kyle Lowry in hopes that the star guard could rest up as his team took care of business. After the final buzzer sounded, I can almost guarantee Lowry will lose sleep over what unfolded at Madison Square Garden. To paint a better picture of how this one went down, the Knicks’ key performers were Lou “Ponytail Guy” Amundson, Langston Galloway and (of course) Andrea Bargnani. If we’re being brutally honest, Toronto’s sole contributors were James Johnson and Patrick Patterson The two reserves combined for 24 points and 12 rebounds while producing acceptable output on both ends of the floor. DeMar DeRozan continued his recent struggles, adding 13 points on 3-15 shooting. Jonas Valanciunas willed his team on a short run to start the fourth quarter but fouled out just minutes later. Lou Williams somehow managed 22 points on 2-10 three-point shooting, including a perplexing 25 foot miss in the final minutes to seal the deal. Overall Toronto demonstrated its growing habit of three-point reliability, frequent defensive breakdowns and harmful shot selection. Let’s get into our post-game report card.
As I just mentioned, the Raps were just off in nearly every offensive category tonight. This humiliating anti-highlight really set the tone for the rest of the game:
Aside from DeRozan’s foolery, it was another “live by the three, die by the three” type of contest. The Raptors shot 27.6% from beyond the arc. You’d think after the last few games, this team would learn its lesson and find other ways to produce on offense. Unfortunately, the bigs (Patterson, JV and Amir Johnson) found themselves in foul trouble before the final frame. Consequently the team was forced to force questionable shots from outside the paint and three-point land. It’s becoming a reliable pattern over the last stretch. We all know Toronto can play at a higher level, so extended periods of offensive struggle are just tough to watch. When paired with its frustrating defensive woes, it made for one ugly basketball game.
Aside from being the last-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, New York is second-last in the NBA at 92.8 PPG and sixth-last at 43.4% field goal shooting. This game is sure to be an outlier for the lottery-bound squad. They took advantage of the Raps’ glaring weaknesses and pulled off a rare two game winning streak. In specific terms, Toronto had far too many breakdowns in the paint which led to easy buckets for their opponent. The team was sluggish on shot contests and defensive boxouts. Bargnani exploded for 19 points versus his former team and actually convinced the league that he can still play. The oft-criticized big man hit a number of crucial jumpers within the circle to keep the Knickerbockers ahead in the fourth quarter. Aside from Mr. Primo, young guard Tim Hardaway Jr. contributed 22 points on an impressive 8-15 shooting. Hardaway looks to be New York’s centerpiece in future years, and performances like these have to be comforting to those in the Big Apple. Galloway exposed Toronto’s slow perimeter closeouts as he nailed a clutch three with 13 seconds left to put the game away. The Raptors made the critical mistake of underestimating their opponent on every defensive trip and were forced to pay throughout.
New York outrebounded Toronto 44-40 tonight. They average 40.2 RPG, good for second-worse in the association. Individually, the Raps’ saw solid performances on the glass. Valanciunas recorded a team-high eight boards while the two Johnsons had seven apiece. As a whole, the visitors failed to box out effectively on every single possession and thus came up short in the end. One specific instance comes to mind, where Terrence Ross didn’t bother to block out Lance Thomas. Ross’ lapse in judgement resulted in a third-quarter buzzer-beating putback from Thomas and extended the Knicks’ lead heading into the fourth. There are many lessons to be learned on the glass after this game, but it truly came down to a lack of effort.
Game Ball: Andrea Bargnani
As much as it hurts to say this, the Italian magician came up huge for his team and exacted revenge on the franchise that nearly threw a public party after sending him away two season ago. After almost nine years in the league, Bargnani never fully lived up to his potential, but if NY can get games like this from him more often he might just stick around a bit longer.