The Raptors have won 20 games this season after falling behind by 10 or more points. If you’ve watched any Raps games this year, it’s not a particularly shocking statistic to learn. With this afternoon’s 110-97 win over the New York Knicks: make it 21 — the Raps were down by 11 early on. It wasn’t pretty for three quarters, but it’s a W, the Raptors’ 50th on the season. And it gives Toronto back-to-back 50-win campaigns for the first time in franchise history.
For most of this one, the Raptors were sleepwalking while DeMar DeRozan cooked. After three quarters, Toronto was clinging to a 1-point lead after allowing the Knicks to try-hard their way to 75 points. For his part, DeRozan paced the Raptors with 35 eye-opening (again) points — on 11-of-15 shooting, 13-of-15 from the line, in 29 minutes. Much like last Friday’s game against the Heat, there was nothing the Knicks could do to stop the plethora of moves DeRozan unfurled. Unfortunately, as the score suggested at the time, not much else was working for the Raps, while the Knicks got great games from Willy Hernangomez (24 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) and Ron Baker (9 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, really annoying). We roll to the fourth.
As has happened all year in the final frame, Toronto came alive. Kyle Lowry and the bench unit (with Jakob Poeltl playing some heavier minutes) finished the game with 17 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds, while also finally putting Baker in his place. Poeltl was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, and added 7 rebounds. P.J. Tucker muscled his way to an 8 and 7. And last but not least, Patrick Patterson exploded for 15 points (13 in the 4th) on 6-of-9 shooting (including, most importantly, 3-of-6 from deep). It was delightful to see.
As the broadcast took great pains to mention, the Raptors can be a special team if they get production from DeMarre Carroll and Patterson. Toronto can win with the ups and downs with Jonas Valanciunas, and they can rely on a steady diet of solid Serge Ibaka games (he was a limp 12 and 4 in this one, but still), but those two names are key. With Carroll looking like a lost man out there — just 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting — it was huge to see Patterson step up on the offensive end. And wouldn’t you know it: the Raptors’ D eventually caught up, strangling the Knicks to 22 points in the final frame on 43 percent shooting (45 percent overall), and ran away with the game.
There’s not a ton to take away from a noon game in New York for the 81st contest of the regular season. It was good to get Lowry minutes and more time with new teammates Ibaka and Tucker. It was awesome to watch DeRozan just have his way out there on the floor. (He is so ready for the playoffs, holy shit.) It was encouraging to see Patterson come alive — the Raptors will need him. Things are starting to line up properly in Toronto. It feels like the Raptors, now fully healthy, know who they are.
All that remains: who will be the team’s first round opponent? With the win this afternoon, the Raptors clinch the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks currently sit in sixth with two games to play. The Hawks are in fifth with three games remaining. The Pacers, meanwhile, are down in seventh with two games (including one against ATL) on the schedule. These three teams are separated by 1.5 games, so where they’ll ultimately end up is anyone’s guess at this point.