The little fella’s a handful.
Knicks 112, Raptors 103

It’s hard to say much about a game where the base requirement of any competitive arrangement isn’t there – effort. The Raptors figured the ‘away’ part of the home-and-home set is supposed to be the tougher game and since they won that, the return matchup is theirs by right. Wrong. They won in New York because they brought the effort for two and a half quarters while the Knicks did so for about one and a half. The winning recipe for Sunday was going to be a bit more complicated since the Knicks had felt the sting of being eliminated from the playoffs and wanted to return the favor by playing their brand of basketball. They did just that. Every game has a theme and for this one it was all about the Knick guards playing streetball against our disjointed backcourt who were helpless against defending the three and the drive. When you do neither and don’t have the interior defense to back it up you end up dropping a stinker on your home floor and in the process start making your summertime plans since you’re not going to be playing any post-season ball.

Obviously the loss itself isn’t bugging me much, it’s just that I hate losing to a division rival and that too at home. The defensive effort and technique was sad throughout the game and only encouraged Nate Robinson, Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson to go one-on-one and jack up those threes that Mike D’Antoni loves them for taking. Most of the Knick offense came because the Raptors kept getting beat in individual matchups, whether it be failing to contest perimeter shots or getting beat off the dribble. A highly vulnerable perimeter defense meant constantly trying to cover for the guards in the paint which invited the Knicks to kick it out to the 19-24 foot range for open jumpers all evening long. The close-out’s were rarely there but even when they were, Chandler, Hughes, Harrington, Jeffries, Robinson and Duhon are all skilled enough players to get their offense against a slow-shifting defense.

Neither team played any defense for most of the game and the first quarter was Exhibit A of two teams playing out the string. The Raptors shot 60% and the Knicks 58% which prompted Jack Armstrong to criticize how the Knicks weren’t playing any defense but giving the Raptors a free pass. We were up 34-33 mainly because of Bosh discovering a jump-hook that we hadn’t seen all season, 15 first quarter points where he abandoned his jumper and decided to test Lee’s defensive resolve in the paint. Bargnani picked up where he left off in New York with 8 first quarter points on 3-3 shooting. If we had actually decided to play with the effort we saw in the second and third quarter on Saturday this one could’ve gotten ugly for the Knicks. Our backcourt of Parker and Calderon did not show any resistance to Duhon and Chandler, Jose kept going under the screens and got punished for it by Duhon every time. Parker’s needlessly drifting defense meant open looks for Chandler and our terrible communication on the pick ‘n roll meant points for David Lee. Again, I really want to reiterate this: nobody was playing any defense. We’ve gotten away with not playing any pick ‘n roll defense last week or so but today it came back to bite us. If you don’t communicate on it you’ll end up with two guys overplaying the ball-handler in the paint and leaving everything exposed. That’s what happened on every third Knick possession.

Jose got hit in the nose and had to sit out close to an 8 minute stretch between the first and second quarter in which a two point Raptors lead had turned into a 7-point deficit. For the second game in a row Roko was exploited by Robinson as the second quarter began on a 12-4 Knick run. His offense was passable, he had a couple solid drives and recognized open shooters but he couldn’t stay with Robinson and it hurt us since it got our defense completely out of position. I don’t want to make it sound like Roko’s the man to blame, nobody, especially Parker and Calderon, could be bothered to play any defense. Bargnani was losing track of Jared Jeffries on the boards and in transition and Bosh’s help on the driving point-guard was two-minded thus ineffective. He doesn’t commit to contesting the drive and is often trailing the play which basically means not doing anything to help your beaten guard. The Knicks had proven that they could make the outside shot and we should’ve forced them to do something different, maybe channel them to drive against the baseline and have Bosh/Bargnani there, or even some trapping so they don’t casually walk into one-on-one situations which we can’t defend, or perhaps just a better effort in trying to contain your man.

The Knicks made four threes in the second quarter which is how many they made all of Saturday. Bosh only had 4 points in the quarter, Bargnani was held scoreless and other than a couple Calderon drives using the high-screen, our offense was all jumpers and turnovers. The Knicks won the quarter 32-20 and took an 11 point lead into the half. The message at halftime should’ve been very simple: Increase the defensive effort, communicate on defense and take away the three from the Knicks. I was hoping they’d respond in the same manner as they had the day before but it wasn’t to be.

More of the same followed in the third quarter and like on Saturday, Triano resorted to Quincy Douby to provide the spark. Any time an NBA unit has to rely on a guy named Quincy to deliver you know it’s not a good situation. Douby, to his credit, did all the little things right and played better defense on Duhon than Ukic or Calderon. His only faux pas was looking off Bosh who had successfully fought for position in favor of shooting a three. Every Knick possession could be described as drive, kick, ball-fake, drive and pull-up which is way too many things for any defense, let alone the Raptors’, to counter. I’d like to fast-forward if you will to the 4:28 mark when Quentin Richardson came in to be checked by Joey Graham in a 12 point game. We needed to end the quarter strong so we would have a manageable deficit entering the fourth. Instead Joey got outright schooled by Richardson. He scored 10 points on him – two threes where Joey wasn’t in the same zip code, a driving layup caused by Joey’s defensive stance and footwork being wrong as per Basketball 101 and an uncontested pull-up jumper. The lead going into the fourth was 16.

The Raptors tend to forget what’s worked well for them and start deviating from their strengths, call it coaching or call it mental lapses, personally I don’t even care at this point. The Knicks weren’t playing any defense, all we needed to do was go to Bosh in the post against Lee, run some pick ‘n rolls and get Bargnani-on-small situations, have Jose use the high pick against Duhon and go from there. Nothing fancy, just simple ball. The Knicks got a great lift from their bench which outscored ours 41-14, as mentioned Richardson burned us in the third and Robinson in the second which were the two quarters the Knicks won. We called on Kapono off the bench and the best thing he gave us was an education of how not to throw an entry-pass – his second quarter attempt at an entry-pass to Bosh sailed out of bounds and I swear I heard Jack Armstrong mutter, “Whaaadaaafaaaak”.

Compare the Knick three-point shooters to ours: Robinson, Chandler, Duhon, Harrington to Parker, Kapono and Jose. The difference is that their guys can create their threes in one-on-one or screen situations whereas our guys need to be spoon-fed. They were 13-25 and we were 4-13, need I really say more about this game?

Anyway, the fourth quarter came and as every home team does, we made a run. A nice boost by Roko where he drove against Robinson on two straight possessions, once for a three-point play and then to set up Bosh cut the lead to 7. Douby then peeled off of Richardson just like Graham had and got burned for a three. Bosh and Bargnani weren’t heard from in the fourth, Bosh was 2-5 and Bargnani only 1-4, they both needed to do a much better job of getting position and demanding the ball, you can’t always rely on the PG finding you, sometimes you have to find the PG. I suppose watching the big guns struggle motivated Marion to finally assert himself and his active hands forced a couple turnovers which led to his first three as a Raptor cutting the lead to seven. Unfortunately his check, Al Harrington, countered him point-for-point and them some. Anthony Parker missed a massive potentially momentum-shifting three at 99-91 which would’ve cut the lead to five and injected some life into an otherwise dead crowd. On the next play Jose missed a chance to convert on the break and turned the ball over, two little plays that could’ve made a big difference. The backdrop to this entire quarter was of course the Knicks encountering zero-resistance in their one-on-one play, especially against our guards. Late on Anthony Parker was fouled on a three-pointer 110-100 with 28 seconds left and wouldn’t you know it, he drained all three pressure-free FTs. So Anthony.

Liners:

  • If I had a nickel for every time Jose didn’t make the right pass on our pick ‘n rolls…..
  • This loss is just as meaningless as the six wins.
  • The Knicks are half a game “ahead” of us for the 8th pick.
  • How many times have we seen a player have a great first quarter (Bosh with 15) and not have the same impact at any point later in the game?
  • Everyone was equally terrible but Jose’s defense against Duhon and Joey’s against Richardson were the ones that hurt the most.
  • The Knicks didn’t play any defense either, we just played much worse defense than the Knicks.
  • People say this Raptor team has finally found itself and if Jose hadn’t gotten injured everything would’ve been fine, who’s responsibility is it to have a backup plan for a player getting injured>
  • Jared Jeffries was non-existent on Saturday but gave Bargnani a taste on Sunday: 14, 4, 4 on 5-10.
  • The +/- stat is often misleading but sometimes it indicates player-impact, Nate Robinson’s +12 and Jeffries’ +11 are examples of that. They increased the tempo on us and we just weren’t interested in countering them.
  • Kinda happy that we’re finally eliminated, time to shut down Bosh, Jose, Marion and recall Jawai? Starting lineup for Wednesday should be: Ukic, Douby, Jawai, Pops and Graham.
  • Jack Nies is such a bitch.

Those of you had bought season tickets hoping to get first-shot at the playoff ones, sorry.

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