I’ll be honest: This one kinda hurt. The New York Knicks, losers of 15 straight, played a heck of a game against the second-place team in the East, the Toronto Raptors. Coming on the second night of a back-to-back, and facing a blizzard of Kyle Lowry 30-foot threes and floppity-flops, I figured the ‘Bockers would wilt early. but they scrapped and clawed and stayed in it until the final whistle.
Down seven late, Kevin Knox cut it to three with a clutch triple. And the Knicks got a couple of stops! Unfortunately, they didn’t have the juice on offense to get that tying bucket. Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t quite up to the task late — he was pretty bad all game, as a matter of fact — and there were a few too many Mario Hezonja shots for my liking. Anyhoo … Raptors 104, Knicks 99.
With the loss, the Knicks have clinch a tie for the longest single-season losing streak in franchise history.
Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Kadeem Allen were your heroes tonight. Knox scored 20 points on wet jumpers like this.
This was Scariolo’s scouting report on the prize of Toronto’s trade-deadline participation a couple of hours before Gasol took the floor for the first time in a Toronto uniform.
“He probably brings to this team something which they never had,” said Scariolo, who could be seen going over Toronto’s playbook with Gasol minutes before he stopped to address the media. “A type of player who never was in this team. Basically is a great passer, someone who sees the next play a split-second before most of the opponents, most of the teammates as well, most of the coaches.
“He is a very good shooter … very reliable from the triple line. Corner three, I would say even more beyond the arc than in the corners.
“Solid defender, he’s not a super-athlete, but he knows how to move his feet, where to put his hands. Is tough, it’s very difficult to get an advantage if you want to go strong at him. Very solid defensive rebounder. I would say a very versatile player who is right now in his best, basically the peak of his career in terms of maturity, his ability to fit into a team, to do what the team needs to win.”
Scariolo was asked to explain how a player could be at his peak at 34 when most players that age are beginning the downside of their career.
“When this guy started, he was chubby, even fat, when he was a kid,” Scariolo said, pulling no punches. “Then he grew as a professional and he developed great skills. They were there, but he didn’t really know how to use them and he’s been kind of a late bloomer.”
Don’t Read the Comments remains a vital piece of advice for the modern age, right up there with Say No to the Extended Warranty and Maybe Don’t Try to Blackmail the Richest Man in the World.
But sometimes, the comments sneak through. Over the last week or so, as attention turned to whether the Toronto Raptors would be aggressive in the trade market, there was a lot of weighing in on the merits of the idea.
And, I have to say, I was amazed by the notion that the ideal course of action from Masai Ujiri and staff would be to stand pat. Following Thursday’s big swing from the Raptors, trading three rotation guys for Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies, I gather from afar that a swath of Toronto fans worry that a big mistake has been made. The line of argument is that the Raptors are not clear favourites to get out of the East even with Gasol on board, and if they don’t, well then it could all turn grim in a hurry.
That’s all true. But, isn’t the whole idea to try? The Raptors as presently constructed have as much upside in the near term as at any time in their 24 years of existence. They are, to be clear, not close to being favourites for the NBA title, not as long as the Golden State Warriors exist and are managing not to fight with each other. But the Raptors have a chance. That’s not something that could ever be reasonably said about this team before, unless you allowed for the possibility that LeBron James would hurt himself, or give up basketball for filmmaking, or otherwise not be around to torment them at some point as they tried to get out of the East.
He knows he will eventually become a leader in this group — it’s in Gasol’s DNA — but it’s not going to happen in days.
“The last 11 years have been those two teams,” he said. “(I will) just help guys and help the group be as good as we can be come April and May and June. That’s my main job … just help everyone.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse said he will experiment a lot with Gasol, who for now will come off the bench behind Serge Ibaka. Nurse sees Gasol as the gifted passing big man that will unlock all kinds of offensive possibilities for the Raptors, plus a defensive anchor and “captain.”
Gasol seems quite content to experiment with his new team and coach. “I’m not going to rush anything. As a player you just want to help a team accomplish their goals. That’s what this is about.”
It has been what Gasol is all about.
“He probably brings to this team something which they never had,a type of player who never was in this team,” Scariolo said. “Basically he is a great passer, someone who sees the next play a split seco
As Marc Gasol made his first appearance with the Raptors, it was a boisterous night from the veteran point guard — Lowry had five three-pointers and 22 points — that led Toronto to a harder-than-necessary 104-99 win over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
In three games since sitting out a Raptors win over the Los Angeles Clippers, Lowry has now made 13 three-pointers in 27 attempts, nearly 50 per cent efficiency.
“We think we found some mechanics in (Lowry’s) shot, we’ve corrected them and now it looks like that’s what it was and it’s paying off,” coach Nick Nurse said
Danny Green also made four threes on Saturday as the Raptors overcame several sluggish stretches to run their record to 41-16.
The Raptors pulled away in the final 90 seconds.
All five Toronto starters scored in double figures: Lowry had 22, Serge Ibaka 15, Green 15, Kawhi Leonard 11 and Pascal Siakam 10.
“I think everything’s always a wait-and-see to see how it exactly fits in, but he’s obviously a guy you can play through, from the inside or the outside, a very good passer,” head coach Nick Nurse said at shootaround. “I think two things we could use that his skill set provides is maybe some downhill pressure relief — should be able to get a little bit more back-cutting and things like that — and then possibly just a settling force sometimes. You know, games get a little wild and crazy, you can throw it in and run a series of actions and go from there. And then sometimes you can throw it in the post and get a bucket, maybe, too.”
There wasn’t much throwing it in to Gasol to get a bucket initially. His playmaking was the standout characteristic of his 19-minute debut, a jubilant inauguration that served to make a shaky 104-99 Raptors victory more amusing than it had much business being.
His first basket as a Raptor came on a nifty flip shot from 5 feet. He followed it with a baseline jumper that got a rise out of his new teammates, Kawhi Leonard included. It’s true that Gasol can still score — Gasol is the only player who has scored more than Serge Ibaka as a screener this season — and that his threat in the pick-and-pop game that extends beyond the arc is a valuable weapon against what project to be the East’s best lineups in the playoffs. It’s his passing that really stands out, though, perhaps because it’s a skill the Raptors haven’t had (or at least used) in their frontcourt during this era.
All Marc Gasol has ever wanted out of a basketball game or his basketball career is to win. In his first comments since being traded from the only NBA home he has ever known on Thursday, it came up over and over again.
The chance to win was what motivated him to welcome moving on after nearly 11 seasons in Memphis and a relationship with the city that goes back to his high school days when he lived there as a teenager while his older brother Pau was with the club in their first seasons after leaving Vancouver.
His knowledge of what it takes to win; his willingness to do it and his experience doing it in the heat of the hardest-fought battles was what made the Raptors eager to trade a younger, cheaper and very effective Jonas Valanciunas as the centrepiece of a 3-for-1 deal – the most significant the Raptors have ever made at the trade deadline.
Gasol and Toronto need each other: the franchise that has but one trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on its résumé and a burning desire to make it farther while their window is open; and the 34-year-old centre who has won at the highest levels of international basketball but is still thirsty to win his final game in an NBA season.
“It gives you a chance to compete at the highest level,” Gasol said before stepping on the floor for a team other than the Grizzlies for the first time in his NBA career. “Once [Raptors president Masai Ujiri] called and I talked to some of the guys in there and everyone said the same, about making a run to the title. That gets your juices going and gets you excited.”
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Close to 7 years ago I came to Toronto for a reason. I came for the people, for the Raptors organization, for the city. Thank you guys for believing in me, for drafting me in 2011. It’s a long list of people in Toronto I want to thank. Trainers, front office, arena staff, therapists, my teammates and of course my coaches. Thank you to everyone who helped me in Toronto to go out, compete and play basketball. Through good times or bad times, Toronto fans stood by me from day 1, trusted me so thank you! You have no idea how much I appreciate it.
Gasol generated hundreds of assists on those types of looks in his time with the Memphis Grizzlies. His vision at the centre position should make a tremendous difference to a Raptors team that ranks in the bottom of the league this season in scoring off of cuts, both when he’s playing with the starters and the second unit. Being 7-foot-1 allows him to see over the top of most defenders and he has excellent touch for a player his size.
Gasol’s passing could become particularly valuable to the Raptors in crunch time. Rather than relying on Kawhi Leonard to create everything – his usage skyrockets to 39.4 percent in those situations, one of the highest marks in the league – Gasol gives them someone else they can run the offense through when the game slows down.
It’s not an option they have in Serge Ibaka, who isn’t much of a playmaker for himself or others. The former wasn’t a problem for Valanciunas, but he never averaged more than 1.1 assists per game in his time with the Raptors.
Gasol scored his first basket as a Raptor in the second quarter, doing so on a pick-and-roll with Powell. He then knocked down his second a few minutes later on a face-up over Mitchell Robinson in the post, where he consistently ranks among the league leaders in scoring.
Kawhi Leonard when facing the obiligatory free agency questions from New York media: "I'm not talking about that now. Ask me about the game."
And you know what? They did. Didn't seem that hard.
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) February 10, 2019
“I think as long as our guys keep doing this, what they did tonight, we’re building for where we want to go,” coach David Fizdale said. “We understand what this year is. Whatever happens to us this year will not make us crack or waver. We’re just going to keep chopping and keep going after it. I’ve got really high-character people in that locker room that are rooting for each other and working hard for each other. So I don’t see any of this cracking our spirit.”
The Knicks erased a 13-point third-quarter deficit and actually took the lead, but they have lost 24 of 25 and 29 of 31 on their way to a league-worst 10-45 record. They have not won a game at the Garden since Dec. 1, a stretch of 16 straight losses, and are 4-22 at home.
Said Fizdale, “I know it’s difficult and frustrating to go through a losing season. I don’t discount that at all, especially for our fan base. I don’t want to cheat them. I don’t want them to feel like they’re not getting their money’s worth. But most nights, our kids come out and give them the effort and the competitiveness that the fans want to see. I think the fans understand what we’re doing with our guys. They’re seeing big-time growth from all of these guys. For Kevin Knox to have 20 points in a game with Kawhi Leonard draped on him all night, that’s huge. For him to be going to that game and playing in that rookie game, all of these things as we go through the year and see these guys getting a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better, I think the fans appreciate that.
“From the beginning, we really tried to be straight up with our fans and be brutally honest about how difficult this year was going to be. At the same time, we’re going to put a bunch of kids out there that’s going to fight.’’
The arena was filled with loud pockets of Toronto fans chanting “Let’s go Raptors” much of the night, and while Leonard didn’t arrive with the drama of some of his fellow free-agent prospects, the Raptors (41-16) might have the second-best all-around player in the NBA on rental.
“I think there is a great rhythm with that group and there’s no sense messing that up at this point,” head coach Nick Nurse said pre-game. “We need to evaluate this thing first of all and see what it looks like.”
What it looked like after one game was a 104-99 win over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Gasol posted seven points, six rebounds and two steals in just under 19 minutes off the bench, a severe decrease from the 33.7 he averaged in Memphis this season.
“You have to keep it simple,” Gasol noted after the game “It’s only going to get more comfortable out there, but the level of energy isn’t up for debate. You have to bring that every night.”
It may have only been game one, but Nurse was very pleased with what he saw from his new addition.
“I think for a guy that hasn’t been with us, you could see the offense moving pretty well,” the first-year coach said. “He’s a guy who is in the right spots to keep things flowing. You throw it to him and there is cutting going on, there is flow to the offense. If you don’t throw it to him, he’s setting the good screen, the roll, the kick out.
“I thought he looked really, really good.”
Gasol grabbed a defensive rebound with 56 seconds remaining in the first quarter to notch his first statistic as a Raptor. His first points came off of a five-foot hook shot in front of the basket less than a minute into the second quarter.