For anyone watching this game at home, you should have had the opportunity to fill out your entire New York Knicks viewing bingo card. JR Smith unnecessarily jacking up double-digit 3-point attempts? Check. Carmelo Anthony taking a series of well-contested isolation turn-around or fadeaway jumpers from the baseline and somehow hitting all of them? Check. Amare Stoudemire hitting the deck and staying down with an apparent “injury?” Check. Tyson Chandler making a cartoonish stink-face and walking around with his arms held out in a “what did I do?” motion after every single foul call? Check. And finally, a complete defensive breakdown leading to yet another embarrassing loss for the Knicks? Che…oh wait. One short of the Knicks bingo on that one, and one win short of the Atlantic division title too (for like 20 minutes until Brooklyn hooked us up, but still).
This game was entertaining and close from the opening tip until the start of the 4th quarter, when the Knicks played like a team that needed to win to have any playoff chances, and the Raptors played like a team that just needed to keep playing because there were like 15 000 people there watching and it would have been really awkward if they’d just kinda walked out, which is what they probably would rather have done.
Iman Shumpert may only be in his third season, but his hair-cut has been in the league since 1987, and that veteran savvy really comes through on the defensive end. Shumpert was credited with 2 steals, but he was responsible for breaking up what felt like four or five offensive possessions in a row for the Raptors in the 4th quarter that helped the Knicks pull away.
Amare Stoudemire looked fantastic. He scored at will in the low post, nailed an early jumper when the Raptors dared him to shoot instead of drive, he slammed home a pair of dunks on cuts to the basket amidst the Raptors’ defensive breakdowns and played well in the pick and roll whenever the Knicks decided to take a slight reprieve from iso-ball. The Raptors simply couldn’t keep Amare out of the paint. He was able to establish position early and seal either Patrick Patterson or Chuck Hayes almost underneath the basket before he even caught the ball. The bulk of his points came as easy points in the low post where he simply bullied those two. Amare may not have demonstrated the dynamic explosiveness that once made him the best pick’n’roll scoring big man in the NBA with Steve Nash and on the 2010-11 Knicks. Perhaps his uninsurable knees have relegated that man to memory. But he was dominant as a scorer nonetheless, and Amare Stoudemire-if-he-can-stay-healthy could spell some trouble for an opponent looking to cruise to a first round playoff win.
Now, having praised Amare for his offensive talents, it’s worth noting that his defensive shortcomings, in particular his disinterest in boxing out for rebounds, were also on apparent display. Valanciunas jumped on the opportunity and put up a positively Mozgovian stat line of 14 points and 21 rebounds. He had 8 offensive boards and he took Tyson Chandler, who could not contain his driving hook shot without fouling, completely out of the game with early foul trouble. JV was +5 on the night, compared to a negative plus/minus rating for the rest of the starters (not including Amir Johnson, who played a productive 17 first half minutes coming back from injury but did not return to play). I’m not a large proponent of NBA plus/minus numbers, but in this case they back up what looked apparent on the court (As an aside, an exception to this rule is adjusted or real plus/minus, like the delightfully insightful new system that ESPN launched this week. I completely support any kind of advanced metrics that tell that Amir Johnson has the 12th biggest impact on the court of any player in the NBA.). The problem came with filing the power forward minutes when Amir couldn’t go in the second half, and even more so with plugging in any of the bench big men at Valanciunas’ spot whenever he needed a breather. Casey ran a lineup to start the 4th quarter that featured the 6’6 Chuck Hayes as the only nominal big man on the court. It did not bode well. The aforementioned Amare Stoudemire manhandled anybody not named Valanciunas (He shot 10 of 14 and easily could have had 34 instead of 24 if the Knicks had simply gone to him more) and anytime the Knicks dribbled past their defender on the perimeter there was absolutely nobody to challenge the shot at the rim.
With the exception of Kyle Lowry’s impressively smothering defense on Prigioni in the Raptors noble final 3-minute comeback attempt, it was a bad defensive game from everyone. Offence wasn’t the problem, as the matador defenders of the Knicks allowed the Raptors to score at a rate of 114.5 points per 100 possessions, which is about 3 points better than the league leading LA Clippers offense averages. The problem was defense, where the Raps gave up a whopping 123.6 points per 100 possessions to the New York basketball shorts, a full 13 points worse than the Milwaukee Bucks average with the league’s most woeful defense.
The Bad News:
With the Raptor’s loss and Chicago win, the Bulls leapfrogged the Dino’s for the 3rd overall spot. Chicago closes the season out @Knicks, home for Orlando, and then @Charlotte, whom they may then likely face in the first round. Not a cakewalk, but not a rogue’s gallery of opponents either.
The Good News:
Who needs to win when your opponents lose without you! Brooklyn lost last night too, causing the three greatest words in the English language to apply to the Raptors pursuit of the Atlantic division title: won by default! WOOHOO! Its banner time everybody! Which is good, because the rafters of the ACC are shameful. The Raptors have one division banner in their history, which hangs beside an ‘inaugural season’ banner. When we hang the 2013-2014 Atlantic division champions banner, can we please take down the embarrassing inaugural season banner? It’s a joke. It’s like your parents keeping a participant ribbon pinned on the family fridge for a decade after you lost the consolation t-ball final in the 2nd grade. That banner is not an achievement; it’s an embarrassment that screams that we’ve never won anything. And that sentiment is echoed by the fact that the only banner to be raised in the ACC the last 7 years says “Bon Jovi” on it, because I have absolutely no idea why. Really? Come on MLSE, can you not see how you’re inflaming what’s already a problematic sports-fan inferiority complex in Toronto?