Pinch-hitting for Dinosty. Didn’t know I was going to be doing this post so bear with me as I wasn’t paying an awful lot of attention during this one.
Consider the revenge for Friday night exacted. It wasn’t by the same margin or the same degree of humiliation but it was good enough. The Raptors have a history of getting embarrassed and then coming back to notch a win, last year they lost in Washington against a depleted Wizards team only to crush them by 39 a day later. The major difference between Friday and Sunday was the appearance made by Mr. Effort who stayed on the court for the entire game which resulted in just enough defensive resistance to stop the offensive juggernaut that are the Knicks (can’t believe I’m saying that but they are 4th in the league in scoring at 105.63). After holding a comfortable 7-10 point lead throughout the game the streaky Knicks needed a fourth quarter run which never came, or should I say, was thwarted by key scores from Andrea Bargnani, Shawn “Breath of fresh air” Marion and Jason “Owed $19 million till 2011” Kapono.
First up, there’s no excuse for the disparity in effort from Friday and Sunday, it doesn’t speak well of the attitude and leadership on this team when you need to be hammered by 30 to realize that you need to start trying harder. All we fans want is effort and if that’s not there you will feel our wrath. The good news is that every interview Shawn Marion’s done since he’s been here hints at these core problems of the Raptors – not talking on defense, taking defense personal, motivation, being professionals and playing as a unit. His injection into the lineup has obviously made a big difference basketball-wise but I’m hoping he can rub off his attitude on the rest of the roster. The 15 points and 16 rebounds poured in my Marion without a single play being called for him shows what kind of an impact he can have on this team if the other members of the unit are performing their jobs.
The Knicks are a terrible defensive team, they’re third worst in points allowed and second worst in opponents FG percentage so it should never be a challenge for the Raptors to score. The question was whether we’d do something about David Lee’s inside scoring and Wilson Chandler, Al Harrington and Nate Robinson cutting us up on the outside. The game started off with Harrington getting five straight points against Bargnani who was defensively overmatched from the beginning, but luckily our offense kept pace with the Knicks. Parker who was scoreless in New York came out sizzling with nine first quarter points, he was hitting his mid-range jumper and scoring on Chris Duhon down low, you know, one of those games he has every five games. His work was offset by Al Harrington who also had nine and looked a lot like Wilson Chandler from Friday – so open on the wing that you felt the Raptors had no idea he could shoot.
A 89.7299% Calderon netted six points in the first quarter as the Raptors built an 8 point lead with 3:21 left giving us a great start to the game. It didn’t last long as we failed to close-out on Chandler, Hughes and Harrington who went on an 11-3 run to end the frame. It felt like a waste because we had played a great first quarter but had nothing to show for it at 27-27. No lead or deficit is safe with these Knicks. I’m a big critic of Calderon but today he had as good of a game as he’s had in a while, he had 11 assists which is the norm for him but his court vision was brilliant. He made an honest effort to make that 20-foot pass to Marion and Parker which would catch the offensive-minded Knicks napping in transition, the result? 29 fast break points! Yes, 29! That’s easily the season-high for us and is 11 more than what we had on Friday. Let’s look at Calderon’s assist distribution: 4 to Parker, 6 to Bargnani and 1 to Marion. Most of his assists came in semi to full transition by looking for Bargnani cutting down the middle and Parker filling in on the wings. He also seemed much more comfortable giving the ball up to Marion who notched 5 assists and earned the confidence of Calderon, hopefully Jose can get more comfortable in giving it up to Marion who can be trusted to make good decisions.
The Knicks tried to give Larry Hughes some playing time in the first second quarter and he looked terrible going 1-9 with a couple airballs and blown assignments. Calderon got his usual breather at the start of the second and Ukic filled in admirably. He led the Raptors’ 12-0 spurt to start the quarter which included threes from himself (dared by the Knicks defense) and Kapono. I thought the Raptors could’ve put the Knicks away for good in the second quarter but they settled for jumpers and had too many defensive lapses on the perimeter including letting the Knicks shoot four threes, two of them by Al Harrington who was giving Bargnani and Parker fits with his multi-threat game. His last three gave the Knicks a one point lead late in the second before Jose found Bargnani in transition for a couple layups. The Raptors took a 57-53 lead into the half.
Chris Bosh only had six points at the half but with Bargnani (10 points in second quarter) and Marion clicking with Jose and Parker, he wasn’t needed. In fact, he looked awkward and out of place with what the Raptors were trying to do. We were moving the ball East-West with Calderon, Marion and Parker but whenever we gave the ball to Bosh, the play just seemed to freeze as he tried to execute some sort of move against David Lee who once again got the better of him. Lee had no problem pushing Bosh off the block and conceding the shot he wanted him to take. Even though Bosh has a quickness advantage he was unable to utilize it because his move either came too late or Lee had him pegged and anticipated correctly by moving his feet. Bosh’s read of the help defender has never been good so even though the Knicks were sending help once he put it on the floor, his passes out of it were more of the “let’s reset” variety rather than playmaking.
Bosh finished with 12/11 compared to Lee’s 17/15 and showed a real inability to defend Lee whenever he drove. Playing post-defense is so much more than maintaining vertical position, it’s about shoving your man off the block, bodying him as he jostles for position and taking out his drive angles by forcing him to his weaker hand. Bosh has a tendency to back-track when playing defense which plays right into Lee’s aggressive style. It results in Bosh getting caught too far underneath the basket to challenge Lee and even if he misses, Lee is in prime rebounding position for the second attempt (the Knicks had 18 second-chance points). We didn’t need Bosh today but if Marion or Parker hasn’t had their great games the finger would’ve been pointed you know where. I know he’s coming back from injury but heavy is the head that wears the crown.
You have to love what Marion’s bringing to the table thus far, my favorite aspect of his game is that he shows himself in the paint and is confident in his hooks, jumpers and drives from that range. He may not be a prototypical slasher but his constant movement on offense gets him high percentage shots as long as there’s someone there to make the pass. He’s always been able to anticipate rebounds so I don’t think a 15 rebound game is anything of an anomaly for him. His scoring distribution by quarter was 2, 6, 4 and 4 so you never really notice his points because he’s not going into hot-streaks or doing anything amazing, it’s just consistent scoring driven off of player movement and a well-timed pass. He is easily the Raptor with the highest basketball IQ and feel for the game. He’s constantly talking on defense which is something very much missing from this unit. He later talked about what the Raptors did differently on Sunday and how Triano’s got to learn to let him loose:
We took a real nice butt-whipping in New York and came out tonight with the energy and intensity we need. We came out with a sense of urgency on both ends of the floor and we prevailed.
I’ve been trying to get the shackles off me a little bit. I’ve been kept into a quiet little area and that’s kind of hard because Im used to being out there and create for people and just play ball. When you got the handcuffs on you like that it’s that much harder to get involved. Right now it basically opened up for me and right now I’m able to create and push the ball and make passes and get my teammates involved. This will help expand everybody’s game.
The third quarter always scared me because you have no idea whether the Raptors take the slender lead as meaning they’ve won the game, we’ve seen them come out ice cold and sent back to the huddle with a chorus of boos as exit music but not on Sunday. D’Antoni’s team’s play the same style for four quarters regardless of the score so my biggest fear was them heating up and us going jumper-crazy. The Knicks came out drive ‘n kicking by putting the rock in Nate and Duhon’s hands, a strategy that worked only too well on Friday. This time around the Raptors were up to it and Marion, Parker and even Bargnani closed out as per the book. Harrington was still a problem whenever Bargnani switched on him but other than him the Knicks had to work for their points.
The third belonged to Anthony Parker who had 11 of the Raptors’ last 15 points and made Quentin Richardson look fatter than usual. He took advantage of Duhon on the switch and both Marion and him did a good job of recognizing that the Knick guards hadn’t proved that they could make a jumpshot all day: Richardson, Nate, Duhon and Hughes all missed jumpers in this stretch and it allowed the Raptors to carry an eight point lead into the fourth quarter. David Lee and Al Harrington remained the two Knicks that were proving to be tough covers for Bosh and Bargnani, respectively.
A word about Bargnani. I thought his 28 points and 10 rebounds were rather quiet, he was getting abused on defense and wasn’t boxing out to my liking which probably made me devalue the offensive game he was having. His scoring distribution was stellar at 6, 10, 3 and a very important 9 in the fourth quarter where he made some very smart fakes to draw fouls and get to the FT line six times, an area of his game which he’s vastly improved. The Knicks had cut the lead to 84-80 early in the fourth and it looked like we’d end up having a nervy finish but Ukic’s quick hit found Kapono for three and the next time down the court Marion spotted Kapono setting for another and essentially the game was over. A crucial Bosh three point play in transition and key Bargnani three was enough to keep the Knicks at bay. The Knicks who were lights out at MSG on Friday were held to 43% shooting as the Raptors went over 50% in a reversal of roles.
What does the win mean? Nothing but the good feeling that is beating the Knicks. It is my duty to report that we need to go 17-7 the rest of the way and hope that Milwaukee, Chicago, New Jersey, New York, Indiana and Charlotte play a worse percentage than what they’ve played all season. According to Hollinger we have a 4% chance of making the playoffs.