Clearly, this was not the start of the weekend Toronto Raptors’ fans were envisioning.
Instead of extending their recent winning ways, the Raps now find themselves back behind Cleveland in the East standings after suffering a 103 to 99 defeat at the hands of the New York Knicks last night.
The good news is they get to right the ship by facing these same Knicks again tomorrow evening in Toronto.
The bad news is, they’re facing the Knicks.
You never know which New York team is going to show up these days; could be the one who got pummeled by 40 points by the lowly 76ers; could be the one that scored 23 points in an overtime session in a win against the Wizards recently.
It really is a veritable "bizarro world" where you never know what rotation Isiah Thomas will use, and what the results of this will be. One minute Zach Randolph looks like an All-Star, the next, a complete bust.
The Knicks on a fundamental basis are simply not a good team, but like any team in the NBA, they can beat you if you let them play to their strengths…
…and that’s exactly what Toronto did last night.
As I awoke this morning with visions of Jamal Crawford raining jumpers on the Raptors’ I decided to re-watch last night’s contest via RaptorsTV’s "Game In an Hour." Last night I was all set to write about Crawford’s onslaught and how once again, Toronto’s perimeter defence got torched by a scoring slasher.
However after watching the game in its condensed version this morning, I realized that Crawford was only part I of why Toronto lost this game and there were actually three main factors:
1) Jamal Crawford: Yes, Crawford was simply unstoppable in many ways. He scored 43 points on over 50 per cent shooting and kept the Knicks in this game early when they looked to be headed towards another blowout loss. Toronto has shown all year that they have no answer for players like this and with the way Crawford was shooting, I’m not really sure any team would have had much of an answer. But Crawford alone didn’t kill the Raps. In fact, he took a number of terrible shots and he had almost half of his 43 points in the second quarter alone. Which means that had Toronto done a better job in other areas, Crawford still would have probably got close to 50 points, but in a losing effort.
2) Rebounding and the New York "Bigs": Surprise, surprise the Raptors lost out in the battle of the boards 45 to 36. But it was once again the difference in offensive rebounding that did them in. It’s one thing for Jamal Crawford to go off but when teammates are rebounding his misses for easy put-backs or second shot opportunities, it makes for a long night. David Lee was public enemy number one in this regard as like Crawford, Toronto had no answer for him. Lee deflected passes, found cutters, scored in the paint and finished with 13 rebounds, five of which were offensive. Yes, welcome to Toronto Primo Brezec. On top of Lee’s play, Isiah Thomas may be finally figuring out that playing Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry together just isn’t going to work. Curry played only nine minutes in this one and was hardly dominating the much more slight Andrea Bargnani. However once given room to operate, Z-Bo looked like his old Portland self hitting shots from inside and out and using his size and agility to grab key rebounds. Yes on this night, Lee and Randolph were the second nail in the Raptors coffin
3) Point guard play: The final nail? Jose Calderon and TJ Ford. It’s really tough to be too hard on these two, one of whom has been with Bosh, carrying the team all season, and the other who has struggled through injury after injury, but this was another case of the bizarro world. Jose was simply not on top of his game last night and TJ looked rusty to say the least. Together the two were five of 18 from the floor with six turnovers and had only nine assists combined. Jose in particular had a rough night even getting called for an "up and down" at one point and airballing a key 3-point shot near the game’s conclusion. And perhaps more egregious was the fact that Jose just didn’t look for CB4 enough down the stretch as players like Delfino and Moon launched jump shot after jump shot.
After revisiting last night’s affair, I really think that if Toronto had even corrected two of these three areas it would have been a Raptors’ win. Let’s face it, it’s not as if the Knicks had a stranglehold on this match. New York even turned the ball over with plenty of time left for the Raptors to try and even things up!
As ugly as this loss was, it simply speaks to the same issues the Raptors’ have had all year, and therefore I don’t think we need to get into three keys for tomorrow’s match. Improved point guard play, more touches in key moments for Chris Bosh, better rebounding and a slightly less-hot Jamal Crawford should equate to a Raptors’ W.
This stretch of games represents a great chance for Toronto to gain some ground on their competition and losses like last night’s aren’t doing them any favours.
NBA TV’s "Game Night Live" commentators said as much post-game considering how tight the race for third in the East is looking. They also remarked that much like the infamous superman world and the classic Seinfeld episode, things can turn upside-down when you enter the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden.
"You never know what you’re in for when you go to see the Knicks," exclaimed Andre Aldridge.
He’s right, but hopefully bringing the ‘Bockers to the ACC tomorrow will right the universe and give Raptors’ fans the predictable result they desire.