The game began off as an excellent microcosm of what you’d expect from the Raptors and Knicks, two of the top ten offenses in the league right now — two squads running, gunning and playing exciting, high powered offensive basketball. The score was a continuous see-saw, alternating between one to two-point leads for each team through the first nine minutes of the opening frame.
Eventually, as we’d hoped, Pascal Siakam and the bench entered the game to quickly inject their relentless energy into the contest on both ends (not just on offense, as was the case before Siakam’s entrance). It should be noted once again that both Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas took at least a quarter to find their rhythms — with Ibaka, in particular, looking bad. He didn’t make a shot until the fourth quarter.
However, as soon as the second unit, which featured a returning Norman Powell (more on him later) was in, Toronto proceeded to rip off a 13-6 run to take an eight-point lead into the 2nd quarter, 34-26.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t end after one quarter, which would’ve been ideal considering the Raptors shot 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from deep – numbers on track with their recent offensive barrage. DeMar DeRozan led the team with 11 points in the opening frame and was able to get good looks throughout.
In the second, the Raptor bench went on the play heavy minutes and mostly held the fort. While Toronto’s offense ended up struggling for a period of time early in the second, the Knicks didn’t fare much better. Neither team was able to put up a basket for nearly three in-game minutes — a testament to both teams’ renewed focus on defense the last month.
With the returning Powell — who finished with 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from downtown — C.J. Miles was the odd man out, at just seven first half minutes. Still, he contributed 11 points on 3-of-8 three-pointers in 20 miuntes. Along with Powell’s renewed sharpshooting, the Raptors as a whole (including DeRozan, with 2-of-4 long range shots) shot 11-23 in the first half. It made for some high-octane basketball, the kind we were hoping the Raptors would play. Toronto remained clinical in its new approach, like some sort of free-wheeling Dr. Jekyll. But then came the third quarter.
So, if we choose to remember this game at all, it should be for moments like this, from the first half:
Now comes Mr. Hyde. This was, by the scoring numbers, the worst quarter in Raptor history. With the Raptors opening the frame with an 11 point lead, the Knicks responded by starting what would eventually be a 28-0 run.
No, you didn’t read that incorrectly — it was a 28-0 run. Toronto started the quarter shooting 0-for-a helluva lot, and at one point it looked like the starting group was losing composure, jacking up ill-advised shots, taking unnecessary risks on defense and offense, and really allowing New York (the team and the city) to get in their heads.
After shooting 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3 in the first half, the Raptors would hit 1-of-16 shots in the third, good for 6 percent from the field. Again, this was a quarter to forget, as the Raptors finished the frame down twenty, good for a 31 point swing on the score board. They were outscored 41-10. Incredible.
Tim Hardaway absolutely torched Toronto, as he finished with 38 points (OG Amber alert) on 13-of-27 overall, 4-of-9 from distance, while managing to make 8-of-10 free throws. Oh, he also added six boards and seven assists. This was the Hardaway show through and through. Toronto had no answers for him as they focused the second half on stuffing the post.
In the 4th, Toronto thankfully began playing with a tenacity and energy completely missing in the third quarter. Multiple times, thanks to defensive stops and rebounding the ball, they were able to chip the lead down to 6, only to miss a crucial shot, followed by another, to let the Knicks once again take control.
It wasn’t until the final frame that Ibaka, who played one of his most forgettable games as a Raptor tonight, made three jumpers in a row to give Toronto some hope. Kyle Lowry, who appeared to be the only Raptor playing with urgency throughout the game, also hit some cold-blooded shots to scare the Knicks, who watched a 20 point lead evaporate in under five minutes in the fourth quarter.
Alas, the Knicks brought more energy, had the home-court behind them, and displayed a level of competence that Toronto had been yet to see first-hand. Let this be the wakeup call for our Raptors that the Knicks of old are on their way to the grave.