The silver lining to this disappointing season continues to be Andrea Bargnani. He was the best player on the court on Saturday and drew enough of those oohs and aahs from the crowd that showed both a respect for his game and the underlying fear of his abilities. He was a matchup nightmare of the Knicks and the primary creator of the Raptors’ offense, when he wasn’t scoring he was infiltrating the Knick defense to create openings for his teammates. As is always the case when two disappointing teams teams meet, the one which brought the more consistent effort would walk away with the victory and after a sluggish start the Raptors found their energy and the road to a sixth straight exciting but ultimately meaningless win in the world’s most famous arena.
It didn’t take more than two minutes into the game to figure out that the Raptors had trouble getting up for this one. David Lee – Mr. Fundamental of the East – gave some us early warning signs by running the fundamental pick ‘n roll with Chris Duhon and taking it to the rim after some fundamental spins and then spotting up to knock down a couple fundamental jumpers. We were lethargic to start the game which meant there wasn’t any movement nor any motivation or options for Calderon to even consider so he just dumped the ball down to Bosh who did something that has always made my stomach turn. If a fundamental but laterally challenged David Lee is checking you tight 16 feet out, that should be an invitation to take him straight to the rim, not force up a jumper. The jumper’s only an option when he’s sagging and sagging he was fundamentally not. Ditto when Jeffries was switched on him. Despite his early offensive not being there Bosh still managed to crash the boards, something he’s been doing extremely well of late – 13.5 during the win streak which is 3.7 above his season average of 9.8.
Andrea Bargnani looked comfortable and confident right from the start and looked for a touch or two on every possession. With the offense at a standstill he took it upon himself to do some playmaking and took his guard off the dribble with seeming ease. When the help came the decision making was correct which meant a pass off to Marion who was peeling to the elbow/mid-point area. When the smaller Al Harrington was guarding him in the block there was no hesitation in using his advantage in a high-percentage manner – strong determined drives. He had 7 first quarter points but the Raptors were down the same at the end of it. Why? After an equally sluggish Knick start, Nate Robinson came off the bench and provided the spark, the “spark” for the Knicks is jacking up threes and pushing it after make or miss. Quentin Richardson (still in the league and fatter than ever) hit a three set up by a fundamental David Lee double and a Robinson (white streaks in hair) breakaway dunk had the Knicks starting to play D’Antoni’s style – the Raptors were still waking up.
Our help defense was non-existent, Bargnani and Bosh’s weak-side defense consisted of them taking a step toward the rim and watching the Knicks lay the ball in, I could swear I saw Bargnani walk towards the baseline to inbound the ball before the Knicks had scored on one possession. Duhon and Robinson started the second and Kapono and Ukic had some serious trouble keeping up with them in transition. A typical Kapono turnover followed by a Pops one where he jumped and threw a behind-the-back pass “highlighted” our misery. We weren’t getting back in transition, our offense was a mess with Roko at the helm, Pops wasn’t bringing the energy and after Duhon and Wilcox ran a pick ‘n roll to the tune of a Sportscenter (ESPN, not the TSN garbage) dunk which pushed the lead to 12, Triano called timeout and said:
WTF guys? The Knicks are barely competing and are there to be had if only we put in 70% effort. Just up the transition defense effort and run a bloody play on offense because the Knicks have no intention of playing anything close to resembling defence. Let’s not make this any harder than it is – which is easy.
The message was well-received. Bargnani came in and drew a foul and Chris Bosh on the next trip down executed a beautiful post-up dunk to inject some energy into this lifeless affair. Jose Calderon replaced Ukic and since our movement was better, so was the ease in which the points came. Triano must’ve been disgusted with Ukic’s effort because he brought New York’s forgotten son Quincy Douby off the bench to check Duhon. Duhon recognized the no-name player and beat him off the high screen once but that was the only blemish in Douby’s cameo, he challenged his other shots and even snuck all the way to the rim for a layup. Triano seemed happy with him in his halftime interview.
A 13-7 high-energy run to end the half which saw the Raptors up the tempo on the Knicks. Calderon and Marion were the beneficiaries of some great Bargnani play which had the Knick defense scrambling thus leaving them open. Harrington’s too small for him, Lee’s too slow and Jeffries’ defense leaves a lot to be desired. We were down two at the half but comfortable in the knowledge that all we needed to do was maintain effort and there wasn’t a doubt that this game wouldn’t be ours.
Triano spoke at halftime about how the energy was lacking in the first quarter and attributed the late comeback to it returning. No doubt he was right and the message at halftime was clear. The third quarter started with the Knicks going on a 6-0 run where Marion missed some very makeable shots setup by Calderon which prompted yet another Triano timeout. After that the Raptors looked like they had in the last few games. Jose Calderon ran the point with a purpose and found Parker and Bargnani in early transition for two threes which were part of a 12-2 run which saw the Raptors take their first lead since early first quarter. Another 12-2 run late on consisted of two more assisted Parker and Bargnani threes and had the Raptors going up 4 to start the fourth. There was a sequence where Bargnani lost the ball to Jeffries on the wing and back-tracked his way to get the block, run back up up the floor after a good early dribble and was found by Parker for a dunk. His versatility was on full display.
Bargnani looked like a player, he knew exactly what he was going to do on offense and executed it to his own satisfaction. He lets the defense dictate what they want him to do but he’s become so good at taking whatever that option is and making a scoring chance out of it that he appeared un-guardable at times. Early on this year his pump-fakes were too quick, his threes forced and his drives unplanned but all that has changed and he seems to have seen the light of his own talents and knows that the game is much easier for him that what he initially had thought. His game is still too dependent on him hitting the 20+ foot jumper and we’ve seen what can happen if he’s not nailing it but I take comfort in the fact that Dirk is faced with the same issue and has made a pretty good career out of it.
Other than their mini 6-0 and 4-0 runs to start and end the quarter, the Knicks had come undone because our transition defense forced them to play the half-court game which they struggle at – they only had 2 fastbreak points for the entire game which I bet is a career-low for D’Antoni. Bosh’s defense on Lee was much better than the first, Bargnani was congesting the paint on their drives, Calderon was going under the screen set for Duhon thus preventing the dribble penetration and our pick ‘n roll show-and-recover defense was taking too much time off the shot-clock for the Knicks to put together any sound offensive possessions. Nate Robinson and Quentin Richardson were bombing ill-advised jumpers and despite Duhon’s persistence and ability to play a proper half-court style, his mates just weren’t into supporting him.
Chris Wilcox and Richardson were doing the Raptors a lot of favors by being on the floor, Wilcox had three turnovers in the early part of the quarter and Richardson took two very questionable shots. With Nate Robinson already in jack-mode and David Lee on the bench, Bosh, Kapono and Graham constructed yet another 12-2 run which gave us a 13 point lead with 5:48 left. When you play at MSG you expect a Knick run and it came to no one’s surprise through Chris Duhon. He took it upon himself to create the offense off the high-screen, Calderon couldn’t stop him and for the first time since the late first quarter, dribble penetration became a problem. Al Harrington slashed for two late scores which got the MSG crowd believing but Anthony Parker’s three-point play in transition setup by a Bosh steal made it a 9 point lead. Another Duhon drive led to a Jeffries three but it was too little too late.
Shawn Marion had another solid game – 12 points, 13 rebounds and a high impact. He combined with Bosh to keep the defensive glass clean and we held Lee to only 7 rebounds – a rare feat in itself. We were +4 in offensive rebounds and had 23 second chance points compared to the Knicks’ 10. This game might appear to have been won in the effort category but a strong showing on the boards had a lot to do with us compensating for a 40% shooting night.
Chris Bosh on the late run and the looming playoff-elimination:
We keep playing. We don’t pay attention to the standings. We just try to win the next game and they say we’re not eliminated yet, so until that day we have to prepare the right way for every game.
Sure, why not.
- The highlight of the first quarter for me was Jason Kapono high-fiving the bench after a three-point play. Fraud.
- Just like Leo picked on Tyrus Thomas the other day he was ripping on Al Harrington for playing terrible defense. He ripped Harrington on a pick ‘n roll where he didn’t switch and allowed Parker to lay the ball in. On the next possession Bosh did the same and he was silent. Leo, please, we’ve had enough of you.
- The loss eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs.
- Both Bosh and Bargnani shot poorly from the floor but the latter broke the Knick defense down all afternoon long and Bosh anchored the defense.
- 10 points, 5 rebounds on 4-7 shooting. Who do you think I’m talking about? a) Roko b) Joey c) Parker d) Kapono.
- Jason Kapono: 3-9 and 2 turnovers. He. Is. A. Fraud.
- Bosh, Bargnani and Calderon with 41, 40 and 35 minutes. Yeah, we’re definitely not tanking.
- Not game related but I love how Jawai was sent back to the D-League. He didn’t have great things to say about his mates down there and I’m thinking his return will be one of considerable attrition.
- Leo did make a good point: The lighting at MSG is very theater-like.
- Still can’t believe the Knicks only had 2 fastbreak points. Unheard of for D’Antoni.
- The Raps took 95 shots which is 5 less than their season high (vs Clippers). This is the 11th time this season we’ve shot 90 or more times, our record in those games is 4-7.
- We’re going for the series win tonight at 6PM on TSN2.
Thanks for reading. @raptorsrepublic.