Back-to-backs have been the bane of the Raptors and people covering them alike. With the Raptors at MSG after taking on the Heat, it took just about every single tactic and strategy in their arsenal to pull out a win.
With the exception of a few games including the Huskies win earlier this year, the Raptors have had a lot of sloppy games filled with fouls at MSG. Things seem to move at a snail's pace and nothing ever seems to go the way it should, and if you factor in Toronto's back-to-back record, this Knicks game was just one that you knew was not going to be on any Raptors classic reels.
And true to form, the Raptors did plenty to re-enforce my aversion to MSG games.
Starting the game by letting the Knicks score 34 points and finishing the game with 21 turnovers was just a recipe for disaster. The Raptors were then also without the help of DeMar DeRozan who was still recovering from rolling his ankle in practice, and Andrea Bargnani, also was listed with a sore foot and playing a very limited game.
However, a funny thing happened.
Hedo Turkoglu caught on fire.
Turkoglu, who has been the most disappointing piece of this iteration of the Toronto Raptors, has been completely enveloped in a slump since December. Missing shots he normally makes, creating turnovers where his passes used to be crisp, and recently, complaining about his place within the Raptors offense, Hedo needed a game where he had to break out. Starting aggressive early, the "Turkish Jordan" began revving his engine as the game went on. In the third, we saw him dunk the ball multiple times and attack the basket as well. He picked up rebounds, dished out passes and was just about the most efficient Raptor in the second half. Finishing with a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds, Turkoglu was simply the missing piece and needed x-factor that allowed the Raptors to finish with the win. Toss in another 20-10 performance from Chris Bosh, some well needed offense from Antoine Wright, Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson, and the Raptors overcame all the holes they dug early for themselves.
Heck, even Bargnani, with a horrible 1-9 shooting night, managed to be effective by getting three blocked shots on the evening.
The Knicks on the other hand, relied on blind determination to get their lead and keep the Raptors at bay for most of the game. With David Lee going off for 29 and 18 in a "revenge game" for not making the All-Star selection, players like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler also benefited from the extra energy and made life a living hell for the Raptors by being active and pushing the Raptors around on the defensive end. Chris Bosh bore the brunt of the attacks and as the game wore on, Bosh's effectiveness was clearly in the decline.
Nevertheless, it was heady plays that won the day for the Raptors. Even when pressed by the Knicks' youthful exuberance, the Raptors pushed on with their know-how. New York would often make some spectacular plays but would then turn around and make a boneheaded play. Hedo Turkoglu managed to pick up a 3-point foul on Al Harrington way beyond the 3-point arc, while Jarrett Jack continued to make smart plays on both ends of the floor including picking up a charge against Harrington on the last play of the game. It was a new way to win and quite unexpected, but well needed if the Raptors are going to make noise during the playoffs.
In the end, the Raptors persevered because they got some unexpected monster stats from a guy who has been quite quiet for quite a long time. They also kept their cool under the Knicks pressure and just remained within striking distance all night before putting the game to bed with lots of heady plays that outmatched the Knicks' use of heart and wreckless abandon. It will be those kinds of plays that will matter the most during the playoffs and it's the first time I've seen the Dinos rely on that talent to pull out a win. It fills me with some optimism as we approach the All-Star break, that the Raptors will do more than just "hang around".
And just maybe, this team can surprise some people.