Say what you will about this underachieving Raptors team and their seemingly lost season, but they make sure to keep things interesting until the bitter end.
For the second game in a row, the Raptors almost overcame a double-digit deficit in the final two minutes.
For the second game in a row, they fell short.
The Knicks came into Scotiabank Arena on Welcome Toronto night and used a fairly balanced attack to defeat the Raptors, 112-108. New York was led by Julius Randle, who had 32 points and 11 rebounds.
Randle wears number 30 and you could’ve fooled me if you said it was Steph Curry in a Knicks uniform. He hit five three-pointers in the opening minutes of the game — each more difficult than the previous attempt. Each of his first three makes broke a tie and gave New York the lead. The final two triples were of the “heat check” variety with O.G. Anunoby draped all over him. His 19 first-quarter points helped the Knicks end the first quarter with a 30-26 lead.
JULIUS RANDLE GOING CRAZY— KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) January 7, 2023
FIVE THREES ALREADY ☔️☔️☔️ pic.twitter.com/AF3qtLAdK2
Similar to the previous game against the Bucks, the Raptors were led by their backcourt. Fred VanVleet filled the stat sheet with 28 points (for the second game in a row), 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. Gary Trent Jr. hit clutch buckets late again, ending with 27 points. Tonight’s performance extends his streak of scoring at least 20 points to a career-best six games.
Toronto did a good job bottling up Randle after his hot first quarter. The rest of New York’s starters made sure they never relinquished the lead. Quentin Grimes nailed four threes and tallied 16 points. Immanuel Quickley’s 13 points may not seem like a lot, but he constantly broke down the defense at the point of attack. Mitchell Robinson exposed the Raptors’ lack of a true Center as he grabbed 18 rebounds to go with 10 points. Jalen Brunson finished with 26 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds. In their previous matchup on December 21st, Brunson was held to a season-low 7 points.
Ah yes, the previous matchup. The infamous Pascal Siakam 52-point game! After getting bottled up by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez on Wednesday, Spicy P would surely feast on New York’s frontcourt, right? Right???
Siakam followed up a 4-for-18 shooting night against Milwaukee by going.....4-for-14. Womp womp. He did, however, contribute in other ways as he corralled 13 rebounds (2 shy of his season-high), 5 assists, and got to the line 11 times (scoring 9 free throws).
One of the many weaknesses of this Raptors roster has been the bench — a weakness that reared its ugly head again. Nick Nurse started the second quarter by subbing in Malachi Flynn and Precious Achiuwa. Nurse spoke about Achiuwa pre-game about trying to get him more reps and into game shape. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case tonight. The Knicks outscored the Raptors 11-2 to grow the lead to 13 and force a timeout from Nurse.
New York would lead as much as 17 in the second quarter — a lead that Toronto would never be able to regain.
Entering the game, Toronto knew two things about New York: they’d be without RJ Barrett (lacerated right index finger), and they have the worst transition defense (30th in defensive transition frequency).
While New York was able to make up for Barrett’s absence with multiple players stepping up, the Raptors did their best to get out in transition. Toronto’s fastbreak fueled multiple opportunities to eat into the deficit. The Raptors outscored the Knicks 19-3 on fastbreak points.
In the fourth quarter, the Raptors (and probably the fans too) had a sense of deja vu: Losing by double-digits with a handful of minutes remaining and a raucous home crowd yearning for a comeback. Toronto found themselves trailing by 16 points with 3:10 remaining when GTJ was fouled on a three-point attempt. After making all three from the stripe, Toronto’s vaunted full-court press produced a turnover and a VanVleet triple. In five seconds, the lead dropped from 16 to 10.
Before the game, Nick Nurse shouted out the fans from the Bucks game, specifically in energizing the team during their furious fourth-quarter comeback. They may or may not have caused Randle to miss one of his free throws in the final minute. After splitting the pair, Toronto was still down 5 with 48 seconds remaining.
Trent Jr. continued his clutch shooting from the other night by hitting a ridiculous, off-balance three to cut the lead to two and send the crowd into a manic state. However, as was the case all night long, whenever the Raptors cut it to one possession, a Knick would score a huge bucket. This time, it would be Brunson. He drove past VanVleet, who was on his 40th minute of the night, icing the game with an and-one with 22.8 seconds. The subsequent free throw pushed the lead to 111-106.
Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. & Pascal Siakam all played 40 or more minutes tonight.— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) January 7, 2023
The Raptors have combined for 44 player games with 40+ minutes, the most by any team this season.
The Knicks have the second most with 28.
The Knicks entered this game having lost their last 11 road games against the Raptors. They were also 0-7 when unable to force at least 10 turnovers from their opponent (Toronto had 7). Both of those stats didn’t matter as the Raptors lost again.
The pressure to produce wins on this 6-game homestand has only intensified after losing the first two to Milwaukee and New York. With the halfway point of the season two games away, hope is dwindling that the Raptors can turn things around, regardless of moral wins and fake comebacks. More importantly, the trade deadline looms as an inflection point for the Raptors — not only for this season but the franchise’s direction in the foreseeable future.
Toronto signed Joe Wieskamp to a 10-day contract earlier in the day. That’s not the kind of move that will get anyone excited, despite how badly the Raptors need shooters. After seeing another spirited effort fall short, it almost seems inevitable that we’ll see a Masai Ujiri press conference. What can he say or do to save this season? Better yet, what can he say or do to instill hope for future seasons?