The Toronto Raptors have developed a reputation for taking care of business. They have only lost to a sub-.500 team twice this whole season. If their game against the New York Knicks was taking care of business, however, the Raptors did so by showing up late, taking an hour and a half lunch break, falling asleep at the desk once or twice, then cobbling together just enough work in the eleventh hour to call it a productive day, pulling away late to win 118-112.
The two teams entered this game trending in two very different directions. The Raptors were in the midst of a five-game win streak, hoping to tack on a sixth in a row, while the Knicks have only won one of their last five. To make things even more difficult on the Knicks, their top rookie, RJ Barrett is out with an ankle injury for time being. On the other side, the Raptors have a few games under their belt with a fully healthy roster and are clearly gaining steam.
Barrett, the third overall pick in last summer’s NBA draft, has had an up-and-down rookie year, but has flashed enough potential to give a success-starved fan base in New York hope for the future. He is one of the few Knicks on the roster that appear to factor into their long term plans. His absence, however, is not just a disappointment for Raptors fans. Barrett is from Toronto, and one of the talented young Canadians that Torontonians are no doubt keeping their eye on.
Give the Knicks credit, as they refused to roll over as the Raptors got out to multiple double-digit leads, but this is a game that Toronto should have put to bed far earlier. The Knicks worked the Raptors on the glass, out-rebounding the Raptors 14-5 on offensive boards and 46-31 overall. Leading the Knicks on the glass and on offense were their two big, tough forwards Julius Randle and Marcus Morris, who both had close to 20-and-10 with points and rebounds, with Randle adding one more rebound and Morris one more point.
As usual, the Raptors benefited from the steady play and leadership of Kyle Lowry, who led the team with 26 points and stellar night from the free throw line, going 13-for-14. Pascal Siakam, in his first game since being named an All-Star Game starter, had his best game since returning from injury, scoring 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting and going 2-for-5 from three.
The Raptors got out to a sluggish start, lacking connectivity on offense and allowing the Knicks to crash the offensive glass. Toronto simply did not look mentally prepared in a physical first quarter, and allowed the Knicks to get out to a lead as big as 13 in the frame. As is customary for the Raptors, an injection of energy was provided by a Lowry-and-bench unit towards the end of the first.
Eventually shifting to a VanVleet-and-bench unit, this group closed the gap slowly but surely, although some hot shooting from Damyean Dotson temporarily kept the Raptors at bay. Dotson finished the half with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Serge Ibaka responded with an offensive flourish of his own, hitting two threes in as many attempts en route to 10 first half points.
To further reclaim the game, the Raptors went to the zone defense midway through the second quarter. If momentum is a game of tug-of-war, the zone defense has often been the equivalent of tying the end of the rope to a Clydesdale and sending it in the Raptors’ direction. It was effective once again, and a Lowry three-pointer punctuated a 13-0 run for the Raptors that saw them take a 43-40 lead. By halftime, they had maintained this pace for a 56-53 lead.
The Raptors came out in the third appearing ready to run away with the game. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet hit consecutive threes, and then Pascal Siakam had a five point run of his own. The Raptors’ lead grew to twelve at 67-55, but the Knicks refused to let the them start coasting and went on a run of their own to get it as close as 70-69.
Norman Powell, however, does not mess around in the second half. Showing a penchant for late-game scoring on his hot streak, Powell carried this trend into tonight’s game. He hit a couple threes, got to the rim, and threaded the needle on a nice pass to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to help get the Raptors lead to a more comfortable margin in his time on the floor.
Once again, the Knicks would not go away, tying the game at 103 late in the fourth. Moments later, however, Siakam reminded everyone why he is an All-Star starter. He got to the line, and hit both free throws, then he blew by Marcus Morris Sr. for an authoritative dunk. Following that, after a couple of Kyle Lowry free throws, Siakam came down and hit a pull-up three to make the game 115-109 with 22 seconds left, essentially ending the game.
So, it was far from pretty, but the Raptors extended the win streak to six, and escaped a lively performance by the Knicks. It is good to get one in the win column, but the Raptors will have to show up mentally for their next game, as they travel to San Antonio to take on the Spurs.