Note from Blake – Please welcome Garrett to the RR team. This was a pre-season tryout of sorts for him as well…we’ll see if he makes the Opening Day roster here.

Raptors 107, Knicks 88 – Box

Really a tale of two games tonight as the Raptors went down big early, turned things around, and cruised the rest of the way. It’s a pretty big win, as far as pre-season is concerned: not only was it against a division rival but it was also nationally broadcast (on TSN2, but still). I don’t know if it was the sold-out crowd, the pre-game poutine, or just that the Knicks really aren’t that good, but for the final two-thirds of the game tonight we saw the Raptors squad that we’d all been quietly hoping these guys could be.

Lowry was excellent from start to finish. He ended up with 17, along with 5 boards and 4 assists, was a ridiculous 5 for 6 from three, and put a nail in the coffin for any remaining point guard controversy arguments in TO. Nobody expects the threes to come every night but if he can explode like this from time to time it’ll give us an offensive cog that is effective from both inside and outside, something we don’t really have at the moment (depending on how you feel about Bargnani’s post-up game).

The calf injury didn’t seem to slow up Andrea much, he played nearly 33 minutes, most on the team after DD. He did take a ridiculous 21 shots to get his 20 points but rebounded well (the Raps will take 7 boards from him any night of the week) and played better defense on Amare then the stats suggest. Even though Stoudemire was 8 for 11 on the night, a couple of those were uncontested dunks on missed switches – an issue, certainly, but when Andrea got into position he was reasonably effective on D.

The Knicks’ early run against the Raptors second unit largely happened between the free-throw lines on both sides of the court – we couldn’t make a shot, and they couldn’t miss. The Raps seemed slow on their defensive switches and the Knicks, particularly Jason Kidd, were doing a great job of finding the open man. Jose in particular looked lost in the second, it seemed like every pass he threw was a couple feet too high and every shot he took was a missed three (including an airball) – he played the majority of the second quarter and had a halftime line of 0/0/0, though he did pick it up in the second half (we’ll get to that in a second).

About halfway through the quarter, Casey had seen enough and started working the starters back in (besides JV, who had gotten in early foul trouble) and the team really started to take off, tying it up by halftime on a fluky bank 3 by Lowry – a run that was really triggered by the fast break. This team is deep and athletic and runs like this are going to be key for them this season, but key to them is playing tough exterior defence and not sagging, particularly against a team like the Knicks which is consistently dangerous from 3. More turnovers outside of the post = more fast breaks = more points for the Raps.

Amir really shined during the second quarter. He may have bricks for hands but his hustle, defense, and ability to stay out of foul trouble really kept the team together during the Knicks’ surge, triggered the fast-break on numerous occasions, and kept Ed on the bench for the whole game. We’re not going to see this version of Amir every night but it must be reassuring for Coach Casey to see this kind of game from the guy who, in theory, is our first big off the bench (playing out of position, nonetheless).

In the second half, we saw the Jose/Lucas combination once again. Blake wrote an excellent post a couple of days ago analyzing the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of a two-point guard matchup on defense, but against ball-stopping teams like the Knicks, who run their offense through forwards no matter who is out there in the other jerseys, the impact was negligible and their offensive contributions really shined. Lucas is a real firebrand off the bench – it’s too bad he wasn’t 4 inches taller because he’d be pushing DD for minutes at the other guard if he were. As it stands, he’s great late-game offense off the bench and has been very effective thus far in limited time (12 points in 9 minutes tonight).

In the words of Denny Green, the Knicks were who we thought they were: a star-driven team without much in the way of bench strength. Amare had a decent game and ‘Melo was effective in stretches but for the most part the two simply took turns dribbling into the post and either turning the ball over or drawing fouls. Fields worked hard on Carmelo all night – he still got his but had to work for it, which is the kind of consistency we need from him on a nightly basis. On paper, teams with elite small forwards are the Raptors’ kryptonite and Fields will be key on those nights.

The fourth quarter saw all the starters return and put the game away after a brief surge from Carmelo. For the final six minutes or so of the game, the unit was clicking in every way. In particular, one sequence saw Lowry dive on the floor the floor for a loose ball, which was tipped to Fields, who made a great pass to DeRozan for a highlight real dunk. The next time up the floor, Jonas received the ball in the low post, backed Chandler down and kicked it out to Andrea, who made a 3 from the top of the key. Now THAT’S the sum of parts being greater than the whole.

JV had a decent game tonight despite some early foul trouble – he was called for two offensive fouls in the first quarter and he’s really going to have to be careful here with the league’s referees emphasizing the moving screen. That said, he managed to keep playing tough with five fouls in the fourth quarter, picked up 10 boards and had a statement block on Amare late in the game. The kid plays stronger than he looks but there’s a yin and yang dynamic to his game – he lost Tyson Chandler for an uncontested dunk immediately following his block on Stoudemire – but the potential is screaming through the screen and if he consistently gives that kind of effort those lapses will start to disappear sooner rather than later.

Demar had an… interesting game. His hustle was evident – he picked up two offensive boards in the first half that he had no business recovering – and in the first half he was extremely effective in getting to the hoop, though, once again, we didn’t see anything from him in the way of outside shooting.

Someone must have said something to him in the locker room though, because in the second half he started shooting with no regard for the situation. He did manage to sneak in a 3 but for the most part this really limited his effectiveness on the offensive end. It’s great to see him taking shots but he has to realize that there are nights where the matchups call for him to take the ball to the hoop – the Knicks started James White at SG, for God’s sake – and overpower opposing players with his athleticism. He certainly contributed to the win but I can’t help but feel like he should have had a huge game tonight.

As for the other Raptors, McGuire played an effective few minutes; Anderson had a strong effort guarding Anthony; Kleiza did Kleiza things; Ross had a rough 5 minutes, missing two open looks, but did score on a nice backdoor cut, Gray got in for all of a minute; and Davis did a great job modeling the Raps’ warmups.

All in all, though, a very promising night where we saw a lot of potential – positive on our side and negative for the Knicks, who just scream overrated at this point.

Next game is Monday night against the Bucks; two more pre-season games until we do it for real.

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