On at least four occasions Monday night, at a rather quiet Madison Square Garden, it looked like the Raptors were going to revert to their losing ways.
But this time the 17-point lead at the half and the nine-point lead after three quarters didn’t go away entirely.
Oh, big chunks of it did, no question, but the Raptors finally showed the rest of the league that yes, they do know how to win a game.
More than that, they finally got some payback for all those long practices, not to mention long shootarounds that Dwane Casey and his staff have demanded of this young team. The moral victories, close losses in Dallas and Orlando to teams that have superior rosters to their own, are nice for the morning sound bytes on the radio or in the newspaper but at some point you need something tangible and no one knows that more than Casey.
"It was important to be rewarded with the win," Casey said. "I think it was huge. The guys have worked hard, shootarounds and practices and they’ve given it to us. We have been doing double duty and that needs to be rewarded. We held a good team to 35% but that 35% is not worth a crap if you don’t get the W. It’s a good win, but I’m not too excited. It’s a process and we still have a ways to go."
Not a one-man scoring binge named Carmelo Anthony could deny them but he did his damndest scoring a game-high 35 points although it took 31 shots, more than double any one Raptor had in the game, to do it.
But getting the win reinforces what Casey and his staff have been teaching this group and will make it that much easier to continue asking a little bit more.
The difference in this game as opposed to the first two of the trip was the Raptors remained patient on offence and stayed with their defensive principals, even when the Knicks had whittled a double-digit lead down to three.
"We didn’t let their run get to us," guard DeMar DeRozan said. "The last couple of games when teams made a run, we let it get to us. We kind of broke down a little bit on the defensive end. Tonight we didn’t let that happen."
“We didn’t let their run get to us,” DeRozan said. “The last couple of games you know teams made runs on us and we let it get to us and we kind of broke down on the defensive end. So tonight we didn’t let that happen.”
Carmelo Anthony had 35 points and 11 rebounds as the Knicks played their second straight game without Amare Stoudemire, who has a sprained left ankle. But they couldn’t duplicate their impressive play from their victory without him on Saturday in Sacramento, shooting just 36 per cent from the field and misfiring on 25 of their 35 3-point attempts.
Toney Douglas had 22 points for the Knicks, 12 during a third quarter that finally woke them up after a dreadful second period in which they made three baskets. But he appeared to forget the play when the Knicks inbounded down three in the final seconds, forcing Anthony to launch a long-range attempt that missed with 13 seconds left.
Coach Mike D’Antoni was all the way on the court hollering for Douglas to move before the ball was thrown in, and he said after the game the Knicks forgot the play that was to be run.
“I thought the whole first half our energy was down. We didn’t play real hard. And then I think we got a little snake bitten in the sense of when you’re not playing hard, things aren’t falling, it started being contagious and everybody started missing shots, and we were playing on our heels,” D’Antoni said. “Halftime we talked about it and we came out and played aggressive and I thought second half was really good, but we needed obviously 48 minutes and didn’t get it.”
Casey, who is trying to get the consistent two-way effort out of Bargnani that two coaches in the past have failed to do, will continue to pour on responsibility for the six-year veteran.
“He’s logging a lot of minutes (38 on Monday after 41 on Sunday) and I thought he was tired (but) he’s really giving it to us on the defensive end, coming over to tag, challenging shots,” said Casey after Monday’s win. “Not only is he giving it to us offensively, now it’s defensively and he has to maintain that stamina to do it both ends.
“Where a guy like Dirk (Nowitzki) is used to that, a guy like Carmelo (Anthony) is used to that, Dwight Howard; now for us, Andrea Bargnani has to do that, take that workload and take his career to the next level and that’s what we’ve asked him to do.”
“He’s asked to do a lot but that’s who he is for us — he’s our star and when you’re the star, your minutes are going to go up and your workload goes up,” Casey said of Bargnani. “You have to be really physically and mentally focused and strong to push through that.”
So far, Bargnani has shown more of a willingness to compete at both ends than he perhaps ever has. There are still more than 60 games left in the regular season, and history would suggest there will be lapses but he has taken the responsibility to heart.
“At halftime, we talked about that: they were going to make a run, we needed to keep our composure, make the easy plays,” said Casey. “We still had 18 turnovers, that’s way too many turnovers for us. Great win for us but we’ve got to learn from it and cut down on our turnovers.”
Bargnani finished with 21 points, the same as DeMar DeRozan, as the Raptors were finally rewarded with a win from a good night’s work.
“(Sunday) coach told us to stick with what we were doing,” said Bargnani. “Keep working, keep doing the same thing because it was working . . . we just had to finish the game.
“That’s what we did today, we finished the game. We played for 48 minutes and in the fourth quarter, we made really good decisions.”
Jose Calderon, with nine points and 12 assists, logged a season-high 43 minutes but calmed things down offensively late in the game when the Raptors needed it most.
Anthony led the Knicks with 35 points and Toney Douglas had 22.
The Raptors did have the benefit of catching a Knicks team with a barren bench and a distinct lack of offensive firepower.
Amar’e Stoudemire missed the game with a bad ankle, a knee injury has rookie Iman Shumpert on the inactive list, and Baron Davis is still weeks away from being able to even practise.
Stoudemire, who hurt the ankle on Thursday against the Lakers, said before the game that he could be back Wednesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, but that there were no guarantees.
That means extended minutes for the likes of rookie Josh Harrellson, who was a nonfactor, and a thin bench that puts all kinds of pressure on the starters to play long minutes.
"We forgot the play,” D’Antoni said. "It’s a learning experience. We didn’t run the play right. [But] it shouldn’t have come down to that.”
Trailing by three coming out of a timeout with 17.4 seconds left, Anthony took a feed from Douglas behind the 3-point line and bricked it. Douglas appeared to be in the wrong spot when he got the ball, or it is possible D’Antoni wanted him to attempt to drive first. The Knicks settled all night for long-range bombs, which could have been a result of their fatigue.
When told D’Antoni said they forgot the play, Douglas was confused.
"It was get [Anthony] the ball at the end of the day,” Douglas said. "We got to look at it on film. The play was to give him the ball. The game is so quick. [Today] at practice we’ll be able to tell you all.”
D’Antoni would not specify what Douglas did wrong when asked. Anthony didn’t know either.
"Coach told me to go quick,” Anthony said. "That was the shot we wanted to go for. I asked him a two or a three, and he said whatever I wanted to go for at the time. If I had taken it to the rim, I probably would have had a worse shot than that. I figured we were down three with 17 seconds left. If I make it, it’s a tie game. If not, we get a chance at the rebound.”
If the Knicks forgot the play, it was par for the course after taking a redeye flight back from California on New Year’s Eve. They also felt the effects of missing Amar’e Stoudemire for a second straight game with a left ankle sprain, as replacement rookie Josh Harrellson left his magic in Sacramento.
- D’Antoni was furious with Bill Walker all night and he should have been. As usual his defense was horrible but there were two specific offensive possessions that stood out to me. There was a possession in the game in which Walker did not happen to know how much time was on the shot clock and passed up a wide open spot up 3 to try and repost Melo as the shot clock hit 0. D’Antoni was seen on camera screaming at Walker after that play. On the other possession, Walker passed up an open 3 and wildly drove the ball only to have hit shot blocked. Unfortunately, Fields was also very bad tonight so his 32 minutes were about equal to Walker’s poor 24 minutes.
- The Knicks ultimately lost the game tonight because they did not make shots. The defense was solid all night and very good in the 3rd quarter. The Knicks shot 35% while Toronto shot 44% from the floor. The Knicks were out gunned from the 3 point line as well. Toronto shot 41% on 17 attempts while the Knicks shot 28.6% on a whopping 35 attempts tonight. Their inability to expose Toronto in the post tonight is what did the Knicks offense in. They settled for way too many outside shots and did not hit enough of them to win the game tonight.
Il Mago is cementing his spot as the team’s best player and clinched the game with four clutch points late in the fourth to put away the Knicks. He finished with 21 points, five rebounds and an assist in 38 minutes. He shot 7-of-13 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line.
He generated 1.21 points for every possession he used and shot a true shooting percentage of 63.6 percent.
DeMar rebounded with a solid performance after struggling in the last two games against Dallas and Orlando. The Compton native finished with 21 points, three rebounds and two assists in 35 minutes.
He shot 7-of-13 from the floor, 2-of-2 from the three-point line and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. He had a true shooting percentage of 67.1 percent and scored 1.05 points per possession.
Rasual Butler finally had a solid outing in a Raptors uniform after struggling the first four games of the season. He had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds to go along with a steal in 37 minutes.
He shot 3-of-7 from the three-point line and had a true shooting percentage of 54.2 percent. He led the team with 1.42 points per possession.
Look, the Knicks are a work-in-progress. They’re riddled with injuries, with two starters and two key rotation guys (Amar’e Stoudemire, Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert, and Jared Jeffries) out. They’re travel-weary, playing a compressed schedule right after the first (and lone) West Coast trip of the year. Tyson Chandler himself has said it’ll be "20 games" until we have much idea of what kind of Knicks team we have. The lockout made everybody awfully sloppy. But still, but still, but still: You can’t lose at home to the Toronto Raptors. You just can’t.
That’s precisely what happened last night, though, and now the Knicks’ first home game, that giddy win over Boston on Christmas Day, feels like a lifetime ago. They lost 90-85 to the Raptors. The freaking Raptors.
The game was essentially lost in the second quarter, in which the Knicks were outscored 29-11, thanks to an almost pathological insistence on taking three-pointers, and missing them. The Knicks took 39 shots in the first half, 19 of which were three-pointers, of which only five were made. Also, for a good stretch of the second quarter, the lineup was:
The Raptors showed something that I am not sure they showed a single time last season-and that is the perseverance to stave off runs from the opposing team and go out and get the victory.
This may have only been one game, but to see that type of bounce back effort out of the Raps is a good sign for the future. Dwayne Casey has clearly made an impression on this club and it will be interesting to see how the team progresses throughout the rest of the season.
The bad news is, with more efforts like this, the chances of the Raptors grabbing that number 1 pick will continue to diminish.
Whether the product of West Coast jetlag, an injury-riddled roster, or a New Year’s Eve team peyote seance, New York’s deflating 90-85 loss to the Raptors Monday night wasn’t exactly the kind of start to 2012 we’d hoped for.
Despite cutting the Raptor lead to three at various points down the stretch, the Knicks were unable to dig themselves out of a 17-point halftime deficit — a woeful stretch in which they shot a Y League-like 28% from the field, including 5-19 from behind the arch.
Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 35 points. On 31 shots. That’s it — that’s the joke.
Tyson Chandler netted his second consecutive double-double, chalking 11 points, 10 boards, and pawing away a number of loose balls down the stretch which failed to materialize into points at the opposite end. Chandler also logged 43 minutes — the most he’s played in a four-quarter game since 2008. Which, when you realize the Knicks needed all 44 of them, isn’t the best of signs.
Once more the ficklest of beasts, Toney Douglas finished with 22 points, four rebounds, four assists, and only one turnover. He also took 19 shots, got lost on a number of ball screens, and — judging by Mike D’Antoni’s sideline reaction — ran the wrong play out of a late timeout with the Knicks down three, resulting in a desperate Melo huck with a full 14 seconds left in regulation.
3- Amir’s silly fouls. I don’t know how many more times we’re going to have to talk about it, but man, does Amir Johnson make some silly decisions on the court. I’m a big Amir fan and still think there is a lot of untapped potential in that 6-9 body of his, but he has to eventually learn to be more focused and more disciplined out there. Some of his fouls just come as a result of playing balls to the wall every minute that he’s on the floor, but some are the result of very questionable decision making. On one occasion tonight, the Raptors got a stop, were running a fast break, and never got a chance to finish it because Amir threw an arm out at his man running up the floor about 20 feet behind the play. On another occasion, the Knicks had just missed a shot, Amir went up for a 50-50 ball with Tyson Chandler, and blatantly yanked at Chandler’s jersey in clear sight of the refs. There are two fouls Amir could have saved himself from with better judgment.
4- Ed Davis’ minutes. Last week, in my “Early Numbers to Consider” post, I mentioned that I was a little surprised that Ed Davis had only averaged 19 minutes per game after two contests. After all, I was and still am expecting Davis to take a step forward this season. Since writing that, Davis has gone on to play just 46 minutes in the last three games. In total, he’s played only 84 minutes in five games for an average of 16.8 per game. When he is out there, he seems tentative on offence, and also looks to be a little more foul-prone on defence than I remember last season. I’m not sure if it’s the adjustment to the added pounds of muscle, the adjustment to a new coach, or just an old-fashioned “sophomore slump,” but whatever it is, something doesn’t seem right with Ed Davis. It will be interesting to watch how the big man responds to the first real slump of his young career.