Okay, so I wrote a couple of very happy paragraphs at halftime and during the commercial breaks in the third quarter of this game. I talked about how the Raptors were finally able to put away an easy win early, after weeks of punting games against worse teams by coming out slow and attempting to mount a comeback too late. Then some dumb stuff happened. And I backspaced all those paragraphs.
I wrote some more stuff, then Woj tweeted and I almost backspaced the paragraphs I had spent the past couple of minutes re-writing. We’ve got some mixed feelings on this one. There’s definitely a lot to be happy about in the Raptors dominating 128-92 win over the New York Knicks. Those good feelings are partly overshadowed, however, by Raptors’ All-Star Kyle Lowry getting injured in the third quarter of an utterly meaningless blowout. (Fortunately, it reportedly appears to not be a particularly serious injury.)
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is undergoing testing on right ankle injury that caused him to leave game, but belief is that it’s not serious, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 19, 2019
So, the stuff to be happy about: Well, we’ve got the rapidly burgeoning chemistry between Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet. The two took center stage early in the first quarter, as they operated well together in the pick-and-roll. Gasol, who had previously been prone to floating in space after screening, rolled decisively to the rim to begin the night. VanVleet, who has habitually looked off his bigs at the basket throughout the year, looked to find him whenever he did. The result was multiple easy baskets and trips to the foul line for Gasol, though the Knicks’ porous defence was in part to blame for that, of course.
Or how about the Raptors’ activity, sharing the rock and moving without the basketball? That also shone early on, with Lowry dedicating himself to setting backscreens to secure open looks for the Raptors’ shooters, while Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam worked to set them up from the elbows. Both Danny Green and Fred VanVleet are slightly too diminutive to be especially effective as cutters, but both were able to bang some threes by shifting around without the ball.
With five willing passers in the lineup the Raptors were also able to take advantage of the Knicks by driving and kicking. They made every extra pass, constantly generating good looks, and finished the first quarter shooting over 80% from the floor.
The result was a 38-29 lead by the end of the first quarter, with the Knicks only really being kept in the game by some odd defensive gaffes by the Raptors. Those included multiple blown inbounds passes, one by Marc Gasol, and an especially memorable one from Norman Powell with 1.2 seconds left in the frame, in which he travelled as the inbounder.
The second quarter saw the Raptors really blow things open. The Raptors bench, featuring 10-day contract recipient Eric Moreland alongside the regulars off the bench, played the Knicks largely to a draw. However, Moreland got in foul trouble and the Raptors inserted an especially undersized lineup, with OG Anunoby as the functional center. Anunoby did an admirable job defending Deandre Jordan, with Anunoby’s low centre of gravity keeping Jordan away from the basket in the post. Anunoby also showed some rim protection chops, earning two blocks as help defender at the basket. His defensive performance at the five was impressive enough that Nick Nurse kept him defending in the middle even as the taller Pascal Siakam re-entered.
The small lineup abused the Knicks, with multiple ballhandlers and willing passers, they shifted the ball around to generate open threes and shots at the rim. VanVleet and Lowry racked up assists, they would finish the game with 12 and 8 assists respectively, finding Siakam and Anunoby cutting to the basket, and finding each other on the perimeter. A torrential run in the last 3 minutes of the frame saw the Raptors build the lead as high as 21, and they ended the half with the score reading 73-54.
The Raptors only increased the pressure to start the third, they started the quarter on a 8-0 tear, at which point Knicks coach David Fizdale called a timeout and did a “hockey substitution”, removing all five of his starters barely a minute into the third. The sub didn’t do the Knicks much good, as the Raptors only continued to build their lead. They were at one point outscoring the Knicks 20-5 in the frame, as Lowry had caught fire from deep and Pascal Siakam was dominating in transition.
Then, disaster seemingly struck. Knicks’ rookie big man Mitchell Robinson fell on Lowry’s right leg as the two battled for a rebound with four minutes left in the 3rd. Lowry left the court, seemingly in a great deal of pain, first grabbing his right knee and then his right ankle. Fortunately, the injury is being reported as minor, despite how bad it looked in the moment.
No one is necessarily at fault here. Robinson is just an energetic rookie diving for a loose ball, working hard to earn his spot in the league. Most coaches won’t pull their starters just part way through the third regardless of the score. Still, the Raptors are lucky that Robinson landed on Lowry’s right leg instead of his left, as he might have otherwise risked re-aggravating the left-ankle sprain he just returned from.
The Raptors looked a little discombobulated following Lowry’s removal from the game, as they committed a few sloppy turnovers. Soon, however, the play of Pascal Siakam, who finished with 19 points, 8 rebound and 5 assists, righted the ship, as he aggressively attacked the basket, finishing and finding shooters in the corners. When Siakam exited Jeremy Lin picked up where he left off, Lin had his best game as a Raptor, finishing 7-for-11 from the floor, scoring most of his team-high 20 points by driving to the basket. With things back firmly under control, the Raptors entered the fourth with an insurmountable 101-69 lead. All that remained to wrap up was an entire quarter of garbage time before a slightly deflated Scotiabank Arena crowd.
So we got a bunch of positives: the Raptors displayed the best chemistry than they’ve shown in a while. The play of the bench was drastically improved relative to past games, with standout games from Anunoby and Lin. If Lowry’s tests come back good then that should be enough to counterbalance the one, looming negative.