It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Saturday afternoon basketball game, and generally, I’d say that’s a good thing — matinee games are usually pretty lacklustre, after all.
But for three quarters yesterday, the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks gave us one of the more entertaining games of the season! The Raptors were defending like… well, like last year’s Raptors. And the Knicks? In the face of that defense they shot the heck out the ball.
Unfortunately, in the fourth quarter things fell apart for the Raptors, as the bench that has looked so strong the past few games fell apart and the Knicks went on a 14-3 run. The starters played the final nine minutes and cut the lead to seven, but a few critical mistakes prevented any sort of real comeback.
With the Washington Wizards seemingly unstoppable right now, this one might have done serious damage to Toronto’s play-in hopes.
1. J. Randle is V. Good
OG Anunoby is an above average defender, according ESPN’s Mark Jones — though personally, I think that’s understating things a fair amount. Regardless, even though Anunoby was checking the Knicks’ Julius Randle with his usual aplomb, with assistance from Pascal Siakam and Fred “Handsy” VanVleet, Randle was just on another planet yesterday.
Randle has only managed two shots within 12 feet and 0 FTs. It's a jump-shooting clinic for him so far today. Raps have to live with that.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 24, 2021
Hand in face, two defenders, fading away from the wing — everything was dropping for Randle. He only took three of his 17 shots within eight feet!
Randle has absolutely earned every accolade that’s come his way this season. And, you know what? I look forward to many more Anunoby vs. Randle battle to come.
2. Sometimes the Shots just Drop
The Raptors giving up a ton of open threes and opponents shooting ridiculously high percentages is something we’ve all been seeing — and heaving exasperated sighs about — all season. In the first quarter yesterday, the Raptors actually defended the there-point line quite well — they looked almost like last year’s team in their ability to recover — and yet the Knicks still shot 50% from downtown.
In the second quarter, the bench couldn’t keep up the same intensity, as the Knicks’ ball movement left the Raptors scrambling and Reggie Bullock took advantage (3-for-4 in the frame). Guess what happened in the fourth? Obi Toppin, who’s barely hit a dang thing all season (four three-pointers made over the last 22 games) went 2-for-3, because of course we can’t have a single Raptors game this season without some rando from the other team catching fire.
Anyway the point is, despite a couple lapses from the bench, the Raptors’ D was on point, but the shots still went down. The Knicks finished 16-for-31 from downtown. That’s just the way the ball bounces, G.
3. Sixth Man Gary Trent or Nah
After shooting 43% (and 39% from downtown) in his first 12 games as a Raptor — all starts — Gary Trent Jr. is now 4-for-17 in his two games as the Raptors’ sixth man.
Not so good!
Trent is just not getting into the flow of the offense in his new role. I’m not sure if he’s pressing or just uncomfortable, but the shots he’s taking are just… well, they’re bad.
At first, I thought maybe he’s not playing enough with Kyle Lowry — Lowry, of course, makes everyone better. But Nick Nurse might have thought so too, as he played Trent with Lowry for just over five minutes in the fourth. Trent was 0-2 and was a staggering -19 in that 5:17.
Is this a Norman Powell situation, where Trent is just better as a starter? Maybe. I like Khem Birch starting; I like having a traditional, solid starting centre who gets rebounds, doesn’t need the ball and doesn’t make mistakes. But as it was when Powell was here, this team’s ideal destiny might be as a small ball starting five with OG Anunoby at centre and Trent at small forward.
It might not matter, because the team might not be able to keep pace in the play-in race, but that might be the best way to get the most out of Trent.
4. Dr. Lowry I Presume
I didn’t get to write about the Brooklyn game, so let me just say it here: I missed watching Lowry play so much!
This floater from the second quarter gave me all kinds of feels.
Float like a butterfly pic.twitter.com/KdyogzaLsj— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 24, 2021
He also threw a beauty alley-oop to Khem Birch with 30 seconds to go in the second, and drew a charge on an otherwise-unstoppable Randle in the third.
Unfortunately, Lowry was ice-cold otherwise — that floater was his only field goal, and his usually flawless +/- couldn’t even keep pace (he was -3 on the night).
Maybe he’s shaking off the rust still, from his absence. Or, maybe Kyle’s just getting up there.
Kyle too old for a 1am start my guy got no legs today— a. :( PS5 OWNER (@Swarlayzers) April 24, 2021
Regardless — I just have to keep reminding myself there may be a limited amount of Lowry games left, and I have to enjoy every moment that I can.
5. The NBA is Not Better When the Knicks Are Good
I’m happy for New York fans that they finally have a team to root for; any team that goes through a prolonged stretch of awfulness deserves to have that winning feeling.
But there is no more bullshit saying in basketball than “the NBA is just better when the Knicks are good.”
The Knicks have been bad for 20 years. Literally an entire generation of NBA fans, and heck some players too, have grown up in a league in which the Knicks were bad and irrelevant. And I don’t know about you, but I think the last 20 years have been pretty Goddamn good, from the Popovich Spurs to the 7-seconds-or-less Suns to LeBron and Wade to KD and Russ to Steph and 73 wins to the Raptors winning the title (OK, I’m biased on that last one). Does the Knicks being garbage diminish all that? No, it doesn’t. It’s bullshit. It’s an ESPN and league front office talking point and it always has been, and parroting it back now, after 20 pretty great years of basketball, is truly bizarre.
Especially when those 20 years included a sexual harassment trial and the bizarre personal hang-ups of one of the worst owners in sports hanging over the team.
The league was not bad when the Knicks were bad, and it’s not better now because they’re good. Please stop saying this.
Before we go, big thank you to John Gaudes for chipping in with his five thoughts after the Nets game on Thursday morning. I had my first hit of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Wednesday, about two hours before game-time; I was fine throughout, even tweeting from the Raptors HQ account, and I had taken my notes for the five thoughts column to write up in the morning.
But AZ had other plans. By midnight, I was hit with the full-on vaccine hangover, fever, aches, pains, extreme lethargy, all of it. I could barely get out of bed on Thursday.
After 30 hours it was gone and all is good, and I don’t have a single regret about getting my shot. But I’ll definitely be planning a day off after my next dose!