First, Julius Randle’s three with about two seconds on the clock rimmed out, to be corralled by Gary Trent Jr., who was immediately fouled — but he only dropped 1 of 2 free throws.
That gave the Knicks one last chance, an RJ Barrett heave at the buzzer that just fell short, allowing the Raptors to escape with the 90-87 win.
Trent led the Raptors in scoring with 24 points on 16 shots, and added three steals; he also dropped the go-ahead three with 1:11 to go . Scottie Barnes hauled in a career-high 15 rebounds, including a crucial one that led to Trent’s go-ahead three.
Barrett and Obi Toppin notched 19 apiece for the Knicks. Julius Randle pulled in 14 boards and dished five assists, but an excellent defensive effort from Pascal Siakam — assisted by Barnes — helped hold Randle to just 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting.
The Raptors jumped out to a big lead in this one, but the Knicks promptly stormed back before halftime, setting up a solidly entertaining second half. The Raptors let the Knicks hang around — even taking the lead before Trent’s three — but never let them get a true foothold. New York’s biggest lead was two — and that was at 2-0.
And despite allowing the Knicks back in the second quarter, for the most part, Toronto’s defense tonight was solid. They held another opponent under 100 — their fourth in the past five games — and held together as a unit most of the night. Post-game, Nick Nurse praised the effort, and said he liked the way the team responded to his use of the zone defense after their tough run in the second. Nurse said the zone was useful in slowing the Knicks down, as they were able to get out in transition in the second, and force them more into their somewhat suspect halfcourt offense.
But mostly Nurse praised the energy, and his team’s efforts in getting deflections, chasing down loose balls and grabbing offensive rebounds. Even when the Raps didn’t get the offensive boards, he said, he still liked the effort, as it made the Knicks work that much harder on the defensive glass.
Pascal Siakam was a dismal 3-for-18 from the field tonight, but still played 39.5 minutes — because his defense was masterful when guarding Randle. Nurse said that it didn’t feel like Siakam missed 15 shots, because he was able to have such a large impact on the game without scoring.
It sure looked early like Toronto’s third quarter was going to be a repeat of Wednesday’s lacklustre affair. Ahead by eight coming out of the break, the Raptors gave up an 8-0 run in which Nerlens Noel scored six points (and missed finishing off an and-1). A Barnes dunk and VanVleet three put the Raps back up five, which is roughly where the two teams stayed for the next 15 minutes or so — the Raptors up by two possessions, then the Knicks scoring a couple possessions in a row, then the Raptors scoring a couple of possessions in a row.
Once again shorthanded, Toronto’s bench was a weak point tonight, but the group did provide some second half highlights. Svi Mykhailiuk, who had a rough first half, scored five in the third, and punctuated his improved play with a monster block on a Mitchell Robinson dunk attempt at the start of the fourth:
The third quarter also gave us another eye-opening Scottie Barnes highlight, as he got himself in trouble under the hoop — until he somehow found Fred VanVleet 25 feet away for a three-pointer.
Sheeesh, this man must have 20/20 vision pic.twitter.com/sIzNVZ6RIK— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 11, 2021
Malachi Flynn also got some run in the fourth, and although he only scored one point on a single free throw, he did find Trent to open the fourth-quarter scoring with a three.
The first half was a tale of two quarters, as the Raptors nearly ran the Knicks out of the gym in the first... and then the Knicks turned the tables in the second.
The Raptors immediately took control after the opening tip, as Chris Boucher, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. all hit threes in the first three minutes to stake the Raptors to an early 13-5 lead.
That forced Tom Thibodeau to call for time, and if you thought the Knicks would come out of that timeout fired up… well, you were wrong. The Raptors kept the pressure on, and with Boucher, Trent and VanVleet notching 7, 8 and 9 respectively in the quarter, Toronto built a 30-10 lead.
But when Nick Nurse went to his bench, rolling out a Siakam-Svi-Yuta Watanabe-Dalano Banton-Justin Champagnie lineup in the second, things turned ugly for Toronto. The Raptors started the quarter in a 2-for-14 shooting slump, and the Knicks stormed all the way back, tying the game at 39. Nurse had no choice but the bring the starters back in, and they did settle things down — especially on the defensive end. Fred VanVleet picked up his defensive intensity, doing his usual masterful job of locking down allegedly quicker offensive guards, then quickly pinching down to knock balls away from opposing bigs. Two such plays led to back-to-back coast-to-coast drives from Barnes and Trent, and another Barnes-to-VanVleet-to-Siakam break finished off the half — and the Raptors were back in front, 50-42.
Obi Toppin had big night for the Knicks, as he hauled in 10 boards to go along with his 19 points. For the Raptors, Justin Champagnie got another look tonight after his impressive play on Wednesday, and although he didn’t score — or take a shot — or get a rebound or an assist or a steal or a block or a foul — he somehow finished plus 8.
The Raptors have the weekend off before hosting the Sacramento Kings on Monday.