The Knicks threw what they had at the Raptors on Saturday afternoon. They came out swinging, finding ways to put points on the board while forcing Raptors turnovers and playing sound positional defense, and they maintained the effort throughout the afternoon. For their part, the Raptors starters came out sluggish, struggling to string together strong offensive possessions while not being crisp with their defensive rotations. At the end of the game, it just didn’t matter.
This is now part of this year’s Raptors identity, and it takes some getting used to. It’s not a matter of if they’ll put together a run to eventually defeat an opponent, if they can find the effort necessary to avoid throwing away games to teams that they should be better than. Those Raptors runs will come, and while it may yet bite them this season against weaker teams when they open the game in the way they did against the Knicks, thus far the inevitability of those Raptors runs has been enough as it was on Saturday.
The Raptors bench, for its part, had another strong game in this one, with Fred VanVleet looking more and more like himself with each passing game, and Delon Wright also being back in form while also showing confidence in his outside shot, knocking down two three-point shots in this game. Jonas Valanciunas and OG Anunoby were able to score at will against their bench counterparts and helped the Raptors establish their first half lead and then put away the game late. CJ Miles is still largely looking for his shot, although he knocked down a three late in this game he missed plenty of solid looks, but when the rest of the bench is rolling, simply being willing to take those shots creates enough space for everyone else to work, and opponents like the Knicks are where you want CJ to keep shooting so he can find his form.
The Raptors’ two MVP candidates each had one of their worst outings of the season, despite putting together solid enough numbers by the end of their game, with Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard each proving largely ineffective in the first half of the game before coming alive later.
The talent gap for the Raptors, as they proved in Saturday’s game, is that they have the ability to be subpar in a game and find a way to win it. Against a likely lottery team, it’s a matter of how many minutes of great play the Raptors need to seal the game, not a matter of whether they can afford some bad minutes on the path to the victory. In this game, it was merely a handful of second half minutes from the starters, in this case, the excellence of Pascal Siakam who overpowered the Knicks on his way to 23 points on just 7 FGA including hitting a career high three three-point attempts, and some timely shooting from Danny Green.
The Pelicans come to town on Monday night, one of the few tougher opponents they have in this next home stretch of games which features many probable lottery teams The Raptors will need to put a better foot forward in that one than they did against the Knicks, but in a way, this game was a bigger demonstration of the fact that the Raptors are an elite team than a blowout victory might’ve been.
This is one where you take the victory and move on, and look to the bright spots shown by OG and Pascal to show the future of the franchise, while appreciating the gap the Raptors are building between themselves and the other teams in the Eastern Conference through piling up these early season victories.