On the surface, the Raptors improved upon their dumpster-inferno display just one night prior. For the most part, ball-movement was present, the one-on-one selfishness dissipated (sans DeRozan), and wealth was shared with six players reaching double-figures. But eventually, their inconsistent past and current way of life reared its ugly head. At this point, wins and losses take a backseat to the Raps overcoming their demons. But with the losing-streak now hitting five games, re-embracing the fundamentals that got them here is this squad’s new reality.
Chicago has caught up, and now officially holds the East’s 2-seed. With Cleveland currently in the midst of a league-wide assault, and the Wizards separated by a mere 3.5 games, prospects of losing home-court advantage are dangerously close to the edge.
In the 24 hours leading up to Saturday night’s tilt in NYC, it’s fair to say Raptors’ fans held one of two mindsets. The population was either eagerly awaiting a chance to erase the burning imprint of incompetence shown against Golden State, or in a form of protest, chose to sit this one out entirely.
I wouldn’t place any fault if you fell in the latter category, Friday’s collapse was certainly cringe-worthy. Not to mention this matchup wasn’t exactly #LeaguePassAlert worthy on paper. The Knicks’ have failed in every respect to live up to their city’s “Mecca” moniker, as New Yorkers are currently suffering from depression, waiting patiently for the Triangle Offense to take shape.
But hopefully we all remained hardcore, and continued to sift through the Raps’ rubble.
Before we investigate what went down in the Big Apple, a moment of remembrance and recognition calls for the spotlight.
Anthony Mason passed away on Saturday, after ongoing heart problems. The former Knick, and bruiser-in-the-paint with underrated touch and passing skills provided basketball fans annual entertainment during his run in the 90’s. The kind of player who was beloved at home, and hated on the road. But the type that every fan secretly wished played for their team.
He was just 48-years-old. May he rest in peace.
Speaking of a franchise’s former players. They may be far removed from Toronto’s current state of affairs but fans will always remember the likes of Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon suiting up on Canadian soil. The forever hard-working and fan-favourite, JC, was forced to the shelf with an Achilles injury, but “Baby Dirk” Bargnani must have had this contest circled on his calendar. Perhaps the latest Primo Pasta edition.
As we all know, Bargnani is capable of teasing a fan base with occasional outbursts. With the Knicks’ victory and Bargs’ 19-point effort now in the books, you can chalk-up a tidy average of 20.3 points, 7.0 boards and 44 percent from the field in his last three games.
If only he wasn’t labelled this city’s hardwood-saviour so early on, things could have been different.
And I will now begin to put down the whiskey glass (a useful distraction from Friday). Proceed with caution New York!
But as much I would like to sit here and rag on the Raps’ 1st overall pick in 2006, credit is due. At least for one night, the 7-foot Italian saved a little bit of his dignity.
A shout-out to Quincy Acy as well. He may have been a DNP on this evening, but Acy had his moments in a Raptors’ uniform; at the very least, worthy of acknowledging.
Two key aspects dropped just before tipoff. Kyle Lowry was given the chance to relax as a resting spectator (giving way to Greivis Vasquez receiving the starting nod), and the insertion of Amir Johnson back into the starting lineup after the “matchup” switch against the Warriors.
Whether K-Low endured too many moments of overcompensation during DeRozan’s extended absence earlier this season, or the floor general is dealing with undisclosed ailments, one can’t deny that this was a welcome idea. Let’s face it, Lowry is flat-out gassed on multiple levels. The deterioration in gameplay is no longer the elephant in the room that nobody speaks of.
It came at a snail’s pace, but it’s about time the city as a whole has spoken up in regards to No.7. He is the leader of this squadron, a well-deserved All-Star, and everybody loves his skill-set and tenacity. But it seems as though his fandom bought him silence on the subject for far too long, as if Lowry was deemed untouchable from criticism.
I get it, Lowry is the poster-boy for turning around this organization. Doldrums of inadequacy have been replaced with supreme optimism in a short timeframe. But if we can’t call out the team’s captain, we are not doing our jobs correctly. We are not just happy to be here anymore.
Overall, Vasquez did an adequate job filling in. Although, a little overshadowed by his run-in with the heat-check gods, who usually reserve their presence to whisper in Lou Williams’ ear from time to time. A few timely 3-pointers in the second half helped mask his overall 38 percent from the field.
But GV did most of his damage in the facilitating department. Six assists won’t have him featured on Smitty’s Top Five but Vasquez continued to implement lane-penetration. The once dynamic part of Lowry’s game that has recently found its way on the back of a Toronto milk carton. Perhaps a view from afar can result in Lowry getting his act together. Word has it that KL might also be on the sidelines Monday night in Philly.
As for the starting lineup moving back to its regular scheduled programming, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Pattterson’s name being announced with the starting unit. Especially considering the fact that Amir Johnson is simply playing through pain on a nightly basis.
JJ at the 4, and PP at the 3, or an intertwined vice-versa can open up a new ideas for this team, ones that certainly deserve more attention than just matchup-based nods. Let Special Agent Johnson cement himself under the rim even further (there isn’t anyone on this roster that employs his post arsenal), while Patman creates the space that is so desired more so than already provided.
This recap cannot end without singling out Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan. Two players on opposite ends of notoriety against New York. Well, actually a continuation of the Raptors’ other fallen star.
It was another day at the office for DD’s shooting woes. Add another 20 percent (3-15) to his recent resume. And make it a grand total of 34 percent over his last 10 (54-158).
But what was most alarming was DeRozan’s lack of awareness. On the fast break, and in the half-court set.
Sure, missed dunks happen all the time, but the embarrassing missed slam on what was an easy transition bucket transformed into an 360-attempt suggests a non-committal vibe of getting back to those aforementioned fundamentals. With the club’s current sub-par status, dropping the easy two and getting back on defense should be the leading mindset.
It’s passable, as in 9 times out of 10 he makes it, but the moment didn’t call for the sideshow.
Then came JV mishap. With Valanciunas capitalizing on the mismatches down-low, DeRozan took it upon himself to selfishly neglect the big-man and turn the possession into another one of his mid-range jumpers.
One has to question where DD’s head is currently at, especially when allowing Tim Hardaway Jr. to elude him time and time again on defense. Which actually caused Valanciunas to foul-out while in help mode with just over 3 minutes to go in a game still up for grabs.
As for JV, the punch-clock continues, but the act of getting this squad’s force in the middle more involved remains sketchy at best.
While we’re examining recent stretches, you can add another night of efficiency to JV’s campaign. 75 percent to go along with his 56 percent over the course of his last 10 (35-68). To the camp of naysayers that repeatedly suggest Valanciunas benefits greatly on put-backs and tip-ins, it’s becoming increasingly clear that his game is evolving. It’s just up to Casey and company to promote the process.
Up next: A trip into the Wells Fargo Center to face another bottom-feeder in the form of the Philadelphia 76ers. But if we’ve learned anything from Saturday night, there is not a team in the league that can now be taken for granted or deemed inferior going in.
Ok, deep breath. The anger will subside, but the frustration will likely never come to an end.
Feel free to join in on this stress-releasing exercise,