Toronto was coming off another mind-boggling loss the night before — this time to the Celtics — and playing their fifth game in seven days. O.G. Anunoby was a late scratch after hurting his right ankle against Boston. Oh, and did I mention they were about to embark on a season-long seven-game west coast road trip?
With the Raptors season spiraling out of control and seemingly everyone’s names linked in trade rumours, it certainly didn’t help that multiple teams sent reps to the game.
There are representatives from the Bucks, Timberwolves, Pacers, Clippers, and Grizzlies here today checking out the Raptors-Knicks game. Speculate away!— Adam Laskaris (@adam_la2karis) January 22, 2023
The Raptors overcame all of those distractions and came away with a 125-116 victory over the visiting Knicks. Toronto was once again led by Fred VanVleet who, despite being questionable before the game with rib soreness, scored 28 points, 4 triples, and a pair of steals.
VanVleet was not alone in leading Toronto to victory. Gary Trent Jr. tied a season-high with 6 triples and finished with 24 points, 2 steals, and a team-high (among starters) +12. Pascal Siakam chipped in with 24 as well, along with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
New York was led by RJ Barrett, who scored 30 points, 4 threes, grabbed 7 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists. The Toronto native missed the Knicks’ previous visit to the Scotiabank Arena due to an injury. Between playing in front of friends and family and his Team Canada coach, Nick Nurse, Barrett had no shortage of motivation for his performance. Julius Randle, who quieted the Toronto crowd on January 6 when he hit 6 threes, was a monster for the Knicks. He finished with 23 points, a season-high 19 rebounds, and 8 assists.
Toronto’s victory, however, was in doubt until — surprisingly — Fred and Pascal went to the bench before the fourth quarter.
Nurse mentioned pre-game that he’d play around with the minutes and rotation, considering the five-games-in-seven-nights issue. With the game tied at 86 after three quarters, he started the final quarter with Scottie Barnes, GTJ, Juancho Hernangomez, Precious Achiuwa, and Chris Boucher.
Boucher got things rolling with four made free throws, two steals, and an offensive putback dunk to help Toronto to a 13-2 run. After a Knicks timeout, the Raptors kept the defensive intensity up while handing the reins over to their fourth-quarter magician, Barnes.
Barnes would end the game with another healthy line — 19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks — but more importantly, he continued his strong play of late and was the unquestioned leader on the floor as the Raptors pulled away from the Knicks.
All told, the Barnes-GTJ-Achiuwa-Hernangomez-Boucher lineup played 9 fourth-quarter minutes and were a +10. VanVleet and Siakam checked in with 3:07 remaining and a 114-104 lead. A classic Fred-Pascal pick-and-roll in the final minute led to a dagger three, pushing the lead to 11 with 1:10 remaining, essentially ending the game.
Before the game, both coaches mentioned specific areas of focus for their respective teams.....and both were disappointed!
Tom Thibodeau mentioned pre-game that his biggest point of emphasis would be points in the paint. Whether it was the absence of Mitchell Robinson (who was also joined by Immanuel Quickley on the sidelines) or a concerted effort from the coaching staff, the Raptors equalled New York’s output in the paint at the end of the first quarter (10 each), second quarter (10 each), and ultimately, the end of the game (42 each).
Nurse said his top priority would be the team’s physicality and, more specifically, collecting defensive rebounds. Despite leading 62-53 at halftime, Nurse had a reason for concern: New York had collected 10 offensive rebounds to Toronto’s 12 defensive rebounds. The Raptors did a better job on the defensive glass, limiting the NBA’s #2 offensive rebounding team to four in the second half.
The Knicks were kept in the game by an unlikely source as Obi Toppin nailed 4 triples in the second quarter.
The Raptors improved to 9-1 on the season when they shoot 40% or better from three. Trent Jr. (6-of-10), VanVleet (4-of-8), and Siakam (3-of-6) helped Toronto to their 4th-best shooting performance from beyond the arc (44.1%).
With Anunoby sidelined and Achiuwa promoted to the starting lineup, Toronto’s bench was in need of a boost. Boucher provided just enough of everything, finishing with 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals. For New York, their reserves were led by an unlikely source. Obi Toppin nailed 4 threes in the second quarter to help the Knicks chip away at a Raptors lead that reached as high as 17.
Toronto now has a couple of days off before starting the annual (dreaded) western road trip. The Raptors’ next home game is not until February 8 — the day before the trade deadline. There are understandably a lot of questions surrounding the team and the current roster construction may not be the same by the time they return. For one night, at least, the Scotiabank Arena crowd was treated to a fun night of (winning) basketball — ominous cloud notwithstanding.