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Five thoughts on last night: Knicks 102, Raptors 96

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Another ridiculous and chaotic game is in the books, and the Raptors ended up on the losing end yet again.

Five thoughts recap: New York Knicks 102, Toronto Raptors 96, Pascal Siakam Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2020-21 Toronto Raptors continue to find new and interesting ways to lose basketball games.

Last night, it was a careless double-dribble turnover in the midst of a potential game-tying fast break against the New York Knicks, after a big comeback that erased an 18-point Knicks lead, that sealed their fate. A double dribble!

Another notch in the Belt of Ridiculousness that is this season.

1. Pain

Chaos is one thing, but losing like that? I’m not gonna include the replay, because no one needs to see it again, but Pascal Siakam turning the ball over on an unforced double-dribble in transition, during a 3-on-2 break with a chance to tie the game at 98 with less than 15 seconds to go… well, it’s a metaphor for this entire clusterfuck of a season, isn’t it?

After that play, two things can be true.

This is true; as I wrote about the other day, Pascal’s been fantastic lately, putting up numbers right in line with his All-NBA season. One mistake doesn’t erase it or suddenly mean he’s trash.

But I am legitimately worried about this. How much can one man take? Struggling through the bubble and playoffs, and all the negativity that came after. Tampa. The slow start. The missed clutch buckets. COVID. Fighting with Nick Nurse. Now this? The haters will be out in force and at some point, I don’t care how mentally tough you are, it gets to you.

So who could blame him if he has the yips? I honestly don’t know how a human being bounces back from all of this.

By the way, is it possible that all of the above is actually irrelevant, because none of it is Siakam’s fault... and that in fact it was just the Basketball Gods getting back at Kyle Lowry for this bit of showmanship?

You be the judge!

2. Welcome, Khem

It is with great pleasure that I report, hopefully not prematurely, that the Aron Baynes experiment has ended.

Sure, Khem Birch didn’t score much last night, and he was a bit lost on defense at times. And Freddie Gillespie was also pretty invisible during his time on the floor.

But after the disaster that Baynes has been, I’ll take a bit lost and invisible, you know? At least these guys can catch the dang ball!

Case in point, Birch, naturally, he scored his first Raptors bucket out of a Kyle Lowry PnR:

That, folks, is something you love to see. But you know what I don’t love? I don’t like that Birch is wearing #24.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Raptors need to retire Norman Powell’s number; they absolutely do not. But man, it feels like it’s just too soon.

3. Canada Basketball

Like many of you, I too get tired of hearing the Raptors broadcast and media drone on and on about every Canadian player in the league. But, even I have to agree last night was pretty cool, to see two quality rotation players from Canada play in Raptors uniforms, against an up-and-coming Canadian in RJ Barrett.

Would I have preferred that Barrett not drain the go-ahead three-pointer to seal the Knicks win against my team? Yeah, you bet! But as a Canadian, I definitely feel a sense of pride at how many Canadians are making a name for themselves in the NBA.

We’ve come a long way since Bill Wennington, baby.

4. OMG This Lineup

I know with the injuries and rest, the Raptors are gonna need to play some different transitional lineups. But they closed the first quarter last night with DeAndre’ Bembry, Malachi Flynn, Freddie Gillespie, Khem Birch and Rodney Hood.

That’s Bembry plus a rookie point guard, two guys who weren’t on the team three days ago, and a guy who just joined the team three weeks ago (and is coming off the injury). Unsurprisingly, they were a -5 in two minutes.

I don’t envy Nick Nurse trying to navigate the rotation this season. But that group isn’t one I want to see again this year.

5. Wait, This Lineup?

What’s amazing about that lineup is that in the second half, a similar lineup, with Yuta Watanabe in Gillespie’s place, was +9! Most of that was due to Malachi Flynn finding his shot for a stretch, but a lot of it had to do with the group’s defense — the team switched to a zone that just flummoxed the Knicks, forcing them into settling for long twos.

I actually kinda like the makeup of that group with Yuta. They’re all too young and new to really be effective now — but, with development time, they could be an effective bench mob; if Flynn, Yuta and Birch grow into their roles, and Hood and Bembry continue to be the solid veteran playmakers/scorers they can be, it’s a nice mix.

In any event, last night, buoyed by this bench group — and it hasn’t not been often that we’ve been able to say that this season — the Raptors looked primed to steal this one, up 90-83 with the rested starters coming back to close it out.

And then… the officials inexplicably took away a Malachi Flynn three. The starters came back in, but the Knicks, fuelled by Alec Burks of all people, went on a 9-0 run to take the lead and never looked back.

I wrote about the unpredictability and chaos yesterday, and that fourth quarter was a prime example.

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Unpredictability and chaos can be fun, but they can also be exhausting — especially in the midst of seven games in 10 days. And if I’m tired, I can’t imagine how the permanently road tripping Raptors are feeling.