Down a good chunk of its roster due to injuries and trades, the New York Knicks didn’t seem to pose much of a threat the Toronto Raptors on paper—but this Raptors team has had trouble with undermanned teams this season. Thankfully the bench was there, once again, to seal the victory.
”Sluggish Start” is an Understatement
The two teams combined for a ghastly 15-for-43 opening quarter (6-of-19 from 3-point range) with 8 turnovers. The only player that seemed fully aware that the game had started was Jonas Valanciunas, who scored 8 of the Raptors first 11 points (including, naturally, a 3-pointer to open the scoring) but then didn’t touch the ball again for the rest of the quarter.
That Valanciunas scored easily shouldn’t be a surprise; he’s taller than Kyle O’Quinn (and O’Quinn doesn’t want any part of 3-point threat JV) and the Knicks didn’t have anyone else available to guard the lane. It was a bit of a disappointment that the Raptors didn’t keep feeding him, or that Serge Ibaka didn’t try to get involved in the paint.
Trust the Bench to Rescue a Boring Game
At the start of the of the second quarter, things looked similar to Tuesday night—close first quarter, then the Raptors bench takes control. But something was missing. Yes, the subs pushed a 5-point first quarter lead to 13, but the energy just wasn’t quite there. (I can imagine that playing the depleted Knicks isn’t quite the same as playing the conference’s top seed.)
The starters didn’t really add much in the third, either, meaning we’d sat through about 32 minutes of basketball with no highlights other than a pair of Valanciunas triples.
But then the bench saved us from the doldrums with a hyperactive 7-minute stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters, where the lead jumped from 9 to 29.
C.J. Miles had three triples in the stretch, and Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright and Pascal Siakam(!) all added one as well. Siakam was everywhere, it seemed; he had a layup, a steal, 2 boards and four assists (plus the 3-pointer) during that stretch. He finished with 14-5-6 on 6-of-9 shooting.
It was a run that sealed the game, ensured the starters could rest the whole fourth, and gave those of watching something fun to see.
It also led to this sensational post-game moment:
More 3-Point Ups and Downs
For those first 32 minutes it looked like another cold shooting night from deep for Toronto (one of my notes is literally, “3 point shooting ugghghghgh”). They were 9-of-30 up to that point.
But they somehow ended up a respectable 16-of-43, and an even more respectable 16-of-38 (42%) before missing their last five garbage time heaves.
Obviously no Marco Belinelli trade materialized, and although there might be a veteran shooter out there the Raps can pick up on the buyout market, what we see now might be what we get the rest of the way.
VanVleet and Miles have me cautiously optimistic. They certainly won’t continue to shoot 60% from deep (yep, they’re a combined 12-of-20 last two games), but if they can just be consistent... there’s hope.
Standing Pat Made the Most Sense
Other than moving Bruno Caboclo (pour one out) the Raptors were quiet on trade deadline day; games like this are precisely why.
When writing this post I realized I didn’t mention Kyle Lowry in my notes at all, and DeMar DeRozan only once (and that, only for the technical foul he picked up for arguing a non-call). I literally had to think to myself, “wait, did Kyle even score tonight”? That’s the sign of a deep team, when your two stars are all-but-invisible but you still win by 25.
For the record, Kyle did score, as did DeMar... barely. Seven and 8 points, respectively, on a combined 4-of-21 shooting. And yet the Raptors still had seven players score in double figures.
This team is good, and deep. And fun. (Or dare I say Fun and Good (and also deep)?)
With 28 Games to Go, Scoreboard Watching is Just Fine
I kept my eye on the Boston Celtics-Washington Wizards score while typing this up, and although the Wizards looked poised to come out on top after a late fourth-quarter push, Boston ultimately took it in OT.
That means the Raptors stay in second for now.
With the Cavs retooling at the trade deadline, and likely locked into third place, it’s become imperative that the Raptors do everything they can to get the top seed so the Cavs and Celtics can play each other in Round 2. The Raptors have the opportunity—their schedule is easier than Boston’s the rest of the way, and the extra rest they’ve given their starters this week has been great. And with two games still to go against the Celtics, the Raptors are pretty much in control of their destiny.
It would still be nice to get a little help from the rest of the league, though. I know I’ll be paying close attention to the scores the rest of the way.
That’s four wins in a row, and 6 of 7, for Toronto. They have road games against Charlotte and Chicago, and a home game against Miami, before the All-Star Break. Can I be greedy and wish for 3-0, making it 9-1 in their last 10 before the break? Hmm, I think I just did!