With 22.8 seconds remaining in Tuesday night' game against the Knicks, the Toronto Raptors trailed 106-105. New York's Lance Thomas held the ball on the sideline and in-bounded to Carmelo Anthony.
Three Raptors converged on the Knicks superstar, trapping him next to the sideline until he stepped out of bounds.
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Except there was no whistle. Anthony was eventually able to wriggle free enough to pass the ball to Thomas, who was then sent to the line, all but sealing an eventual 111-109 win for the Knicks.
Lead official Ed Malloy copped to his crew's mistake after the game.
"When we came in we reviewed the play. We did see Anthony step out of bounds and should've awarded the ball to Toronto."
The missed call wasn't the only reason the Raptors dropped their third straight game, though. Seconds after the commotion, DeMar DeRozan missed a key free-throw just before seeing a reverse lay-up that usually drops for him rattle around the rim and out. Game over.
If you buy in to karma, then the Raptors didn't deserve a gratuitous call in the waning minutes. For the first time all season, the team's defense resembled its 2014-15 form.
The reversion wasn't exactly a shocker. Without DeMarre Carroll - out for a second straight game with plantar fasciitis - the Raptors found themselves in the same pickle that was all too common last year: lacking a lock-down defender to handle an opposing team's star wing.
Anthony Bennett, who drew the Melo assignment for much of his 17-point second quarter, just doesn't have the foot speed to stay in front of him. Conversely, James Johnson got burned for being too aggressive in the first 24 minutes. Even when Bennett did do something well guarding no.7 , nearly forcing a steal on a hybrid pass/shot, Melo reached an irreversible critical temperature. What are you even supposed to do here?
10 of Melo's 19 first-half points came in the 3 minutes Anthony Bennett was on him.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 11, 2015
Head coach Dwane Casey was complementary of Johnson and Bennett after the game, praising Bennett in particular for fighting well above his weight when tasked with guarding Anthony.
"That's tough on him. You're asking a young man to do something that he hasn't done. It's great experience. I thought he did a good job," said Casey.
"Carmelo does that on a lot of people."
The mere fact that Bennett was forced to play 8 second quarter minutes and 17 minutes altogether brought to light the problems this Raptors team will face on nights when key contributors like Carroll (and in tonight's case, Terrence Ross, who will miss at least two weeks with a thumb injury) are unavailable. Without a deep pool of dependable veterans, Casey is forced to call on unproven young players and fringe rotation guys to handle important assignments.
Toronto's lack of a full-fledged rotation came back to bite them again in the late third and early fourth quarters. For a nearly seven minute stretch, Cory Joseph shared the floor with Bennett, Bismack Biyombo and a struggling Patrick Patterson. That span saw that foursome each play to a -8, and contributed to wasting an excellent effort by Toronto's stars.
DeRozan and Kyle Lowry feasted on New York's sloppy interior defense all night long, contributing to 35 free throw attempts for the team as a whole and a 60-34 advantage in the paint. Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas each chipped in double digit point performances as well.
Some nights the Raptors' studs will carry them. Other nights - particularly when injuries strike - the Raptors will come up short. No matter how good the likes of Lowry and DeRozan are, they can't all play 48 minutes.