The Raptors have had a rough couple of weeks. Heading into this game, they were 4-6 in the last 10 contests, with impressive wins over Phoenix and Indiana, and confusing losses to injury-weakened Charlotte and Miami teams. Momentum was certainly a concern coming into tonight, having dropped their last three games in a row (one of which was already to New York). A big part of the struggle has been the Raptors’ inconsistent offence, sitting 23rd in the league in points per game, and their progressively worsening defence (now 15th in the league).
No change in the starting lineup for your Toronto Raptors— Esfandiar Baraheni (@JustEsBaraheni) December 12, 2023
The reported injuries to Mitchell Robinson and Immanuel Quickley should have been encouraging for the Raptors’ chances, but with the last few games playing out as they have, it’s fair if fans weren’t overwhelmed with confidence. Sure enough, the Knicks that suited up were more than sufficient to overcome the Raptors squad, who now sits 5 games under 0.500.
The Raptors won the tip, starting down low by feeding the ball into Poeltl to establish a paint presence. He was able to earn a trip to the line, but has continued to struggle with his free throw shooting this season. While the score was close for the first few possessions of the game, Tom Thibodeau didn’t love the looks the Raptors were getting, so he quickly took a timeout to draw up an easy look for Jalen Brunson from 3. Pascal was able to answer with a shot from beyond the arc, only to have the favour returned by Julius Randle on a pass by RJ Barrett. O.G. Anunoby started to gain aggression on the offensive end, with a couple of quick baskets.
The Raps were able to stay within striking distance, but the ease with which the Knicks were able to score prompted a timeout for the Raptors that also allowed for some substitutions. Out of the timeout, Poeltl’s effort on the boards increased, but despite his fight for rebounds in the paint he only managed to corral a few due to New York’s aggressive energy to prevent second chance opportunities.
Precious and Malachi checked into the game and immediately there felt like some improvements from an energy perspective, as they were able to go on a 10-2 run to tie up the game before the Knicks called another timeout. Scottie returned for the game for the final minutes to play with the bench guys, and the pace started to increase as teams exchanged buckets until New York held the ball for the final possession, but was unable to cash in on the final bucket, leaving the teams tied up at 35.
In the second, the Scottie and bench minutes started strong with Gradey Dick checking into the game. Early in the quarter, the Knicks were finding all of their shots, especially down low in the paint. Some quick-trigger threes helped them build a lead, as they continued to shoot well from beyond the arc, making 8/11.
Scottie was able to contribute for the Raptors from long range as well, but overall the Raptors continued to struggle from that distance. Much of the quarter felt like easy shots for New York that were matched with great effort from the Raps to try and match it. A bit of a back and forth between both teams continued, without the Raptors being able to catch up, or the Knicks being able to create a substantial lead.
Late in the quarter, there was more energy from the Raptors as substitutions were made, but a number of frustrating calls from officiating felt as though it staunched any momentum the Raptors were managing to gather. With about four minutes left in the quarter, the Knicks were already in the bonus putting added pressure on the Raps’ defence to play cleanly. To prevent sending them to the line, the Raptors allowed a few easy shots for the Knicks which left them down two possessions going into the break.
In the first half tonight against New York:— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) December 12, 2023
5-for-22 from three
7-for-14 at the line https://t.co/FKiuHUFMpx
The Raptors had a strong defensive possession to start the third, forcing RJ into a difficult shot that was left short at the rim. Schroder ran into Brunson but a no-call allowed him to cash in an elbow jumper. An offensive foul and a missed dunk added to the struggles for the Knicks early on, but the Raptors briefly lost their intensity on defence, allowing an offensive rebound for Randle that led to a basket.
The momentum for the Raptors continued to build after the timeout, with O.G. out in transition, managing back to back buckets again. Once the Raptors were finally able to tie the game again at 71, the Knicks proceeded to go on another short run. This continued to establish the pattern for this matchup, with the Raptors grinding their way to a tie game, only to be left back at a deficit due to savvy three-point shooting or quick looks by the Knicks.
Randle was getting fired up late in the quarter with a poster on Precious, but was called for hanging on the rim and provided the opportunity for Scottie to make a shot from the line. Precious answered back with a three-point shot, followed later by Scottie to get the Raptors within one. Another high scoring quarter leaving the teams 98-97 for the Knicks at the end of the frame.
Early in the fourth, RJ started aggressively, with two quick baskets and a foul drawn that earned him free-throws. Malachi Flynn made a nice 3 point shot before checking back out of the game. Scottie’s toughness in the fourth began, with him fighting through a post up down low, scoring on one possession, then finding Boucher for a tough bucket on the next play. A strong take by O.G. led to a trip to the line, and despite continued trouble from the free-throw line, he was able to make both and tie up the game again.
SCOTTIE B WITH THE CORNER 3 pic.twitter.com/cleofSp8eA— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 12, 2023
Josh Hart contributed for the Knicks with his intensity, leading the Knicks on another short run that prompted a timeout for the Raps. Out of the timeout, Schroder was able to chip in to keep within striking distance. Brunson started to lock in, making a mixture of shots and assists to give the Knicks a two-possession cushion. Quentin Grimes cashed in another 3-pointer late in the shot clock, followed by Josh Hart with back to back buckets, a frustrating development for the Raptors who were trying to continue to scratch their way back into the game.
Now, with a 10 point deficit, another timeout was needed. Despite trying to scrape back, a costly turnover paired with a tough basket by Randle all but sealed the loss for the Raps. Rather than electing to foul initially, the Raptors tried to make their way back into the game, but even with successful trips to the line, were unable to clinch the victory.
Knicks shooting by quarter:— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 12, 2023
1st: 54% FG, 5-8 3P
2nd: 56%, 4-8 3P
3rd: 55%, 4-8 3P
4th: 80% (!!), 4-5 3P
Raptors have allowed their opponents (NYK/CHA) to shoot 50+% in 7 of the last 8 quarters. They've lost 4 straight games and 6 of their last 7.
Despite the loss, O.G. Anunoby had a tremendous game, demonstrating some of the variety that he is capable of from an offensive perspective. He had tough shots inside, significant shooting from deep, and rim-running in transition. His defensive game also continues to be a menace for opposing players, but with the struggles surrounding him, his effort, at times, is lost. He finished with a team-high 29 points on efficient shooting, 5 boards, 2 assists, and a steal. For the Raptors, he was easily the best player in this game, and continues to show his value for the team.
Although trade rumours will continue to fly in the coming days and weeks, it should be noted in performances like this what he brings to the team on both ends of the floor and his ability to play his role.
Pascal, Scottie, and Dennis all chipped in 20 points each as well, with improved efficiency from beyond the arc especially. They were all over the court, with Dennis contributing 10 assists and 4 steals, Scottie with 6 boards and 5 assists, and Pascal with 4 boards, 4 steals, and 4 assists. As far as contributions from the main guys on the team, it’s not as though we could complain that any individual from the starting lineup didn’t contribute what was needed, at least to some degree.
What is probably the most concerning development from this game is the continued struggles from Trent Jr. who went 0-4 from beyond the arc in this game. While he has had strong performances this season, his primary role as a shooter and floor spacer is a significant part of his trade value when the Raptors initially acquired him. Last year he was fairly efficient, but throughout this season his offence has laboured, and 2-8 is not going to help the Raptors generate the spacing they need, making everyone else’s job a little harder.
Hopefully the Raptors are able to bounce back from this slump as they return home for a stretch, first facing Atlanta on Wednesday, Dec. 13.