There are nights which are difficult for a team to get up for, and the Knicks missing three key players is definitely one of them. There’s a natural tendency to play down to the level of your competition, much like when you’re posting up your 6-year old in the block. That little thing has no chance of blocking your shot, so you try something fancy. You try the sky hook, a double-clutch fadeaway, even a left-handed behind-the-back pass against her head while she’s tying her shoe, because you can’t actually be bothered and you may as well have some fun with it. Now, the Raptors didn’t approach the Knicks with that level of patronization, but you get the point.
What helped the Raptors was that the game was on TNT, as it served to bump up the motivation needle, especially for its two All-Stars. With limited credible offensive players (Anthony, Calderon, and Porzingis out), the Knicks started off pushing the issue on the break via Langston Galloway, and had Kyle O’Quinn start off hot against Luis Scola. They build up a modest 5-point edge before Dwane Casey called timeout.
Thanks to our sources inside the Raptors locker-room (unrelated: shout out to Jeff), RR can confirm that Dwane Casey remained completely silent in that timeout with a simple note scribbled on the clipboard, of which an image we have acquired via our source (yo Jeff, wusup?):
A 9-2 run shortly ensued which gave the Raptors the lead for good, and from that point on it was an ugly game, that still saw the Raptors ride out to win on relative cruise control. The Raptors pushed it to 14 in the second and the Knicks cut it to a single point to start the third, but it was rinse-and-repeat as the Raptors called another timeout, and came back with another 9-1 run to create distance. The Raptors almost seemed annoyed that Galloway and Afflalo decided to play ball, because it meant the scheduled blowout wasn’t going to happen.
James Johnson, who had a poor first half often getting caught behind cutters, was the man Casey chose to put on Afflalo in the third, and his defense for the first time made a tangible difference. Terrence Ross didn’t have a great line but he was important in that second quarter run which created that 14-point edge. During that span we also saw Patrick Patterson hit a three, drive in for a floater, and generally play with a level of confidence that is becoming consistent to the point where it’s bleaching out our earlier bad memories of him.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both shot 50% and had 26 points apiece, while playing 36 and 41 minutes, respectively. Let’s be honest, when playing at home against a team like the Knicks missing three of their better players, that shouldn’t be needed. Then again, our second unit isn’t like last season and can’t figure out how to sustain itself without one of Lowry or DeRozan sucking defenders their way. It’s not a problem and you don’t need your bench to be fully self-sustainable so there’s no cause for alarm from a basketball point of view. The high minutes, though? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if Lowry or DeRozan enter the playoffs less than 100%, these are the games we’ll remember.
You could be critical and say that Kyle Lowry is Dwane Casey’s playbook, but who in the league other than one or two teams doesn’t heavily rely on their best player? I tend to view the Raptors offense more sustainable than last season, and that’s a big step in the right direction.
It’s a 10th straight win for the Raptors and they’re getting contributions from all over the place. Luis Scola had a very bright start against Quinn, Ross and Patterson are contributing with far greater consistency, and even Cory Joseph seems to have gotten over his mid-season downturn to again attack the basket and play strong perimeter defense.
Jonas Valanciunas was 4-16 going up against Robin Lopez, but I did like the shots he took. In my view, he needs to continue taking that mid-range jumper and adopt the DeMar DeRozan-approach of miss-till-you-get-great-at-it. What’s positive about Valanciunas’ game is that since he’s much more closer to the basket this year, he’s becoming quicker at coming over to help against guards. He feels a greater sense of responsibility when manning the paint, and his movement to contest drives is quicker and underrated. His rebounding has gotten better and he’s relying more on positioning and timing instead of reach on the boards (18 rebounds tonight).
It’s not a win you celebrate with aplomb on account of the state of the opponent, but you’ll recall that we dropped this fixture earlier in the year and taking care of business has to be considered a sign of growth, even if it’s just the Knicks.
I’ll also defer to the always excellent Knickerblogger to sum this up for you:
In a game that can only be described as a pre-All Star break Pre-Season game, the Knicks hung around. That’s all you can really say because the Raptors were never in any real danger of losing the game, even when the Knicks managed to pull it to one in the middle of the third quarter. The Raptors feature really good guards, while the Knicks mainly feature human beings in athletic wear. Jerian Grant’s good numbers tonight look better than his perplexing, herky-jerky, indecisive play. He had a few moments at the end of the game in desperation time, but overall he looks overmatched. Afflalo had 20 on decent enough shooting, but he was blocked 5 times because he’s an Earthbound sort of life form like the rest of us. Some day the Knicks will employ a guard who can take over a game, but until then….we’ll always have Vujacicity….or something like that.
As for the Raps, what’s next?
Casey: Thats's our goal, to catch Cleveland, be first in the conference.
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) January 29, 2016
Finally, had this convo on WhatsApp regarding one Philip Jackson:
Sorry for the short recap, but I got Blake and Will’s podcast to edit, and make sure to subscribe to our Soundcloud page for the latest audio from RR.