Knicks’ defensive adjustments earn them rare win in Toronto

No 52 point game from Siakam this time.

It’s been a while since the Knicks have left Toronto with a win.

You have to go back to November 2015 where a pivotal play that saw Carmelo Anthony step out of bounds went uncalled, propelling a Knicks victory. Since then, the Raptors had won 11 straight at home vs New York.

In December, the Knicks had their eight game win streak snapped at the hands of the Raptors. New York has been on a rollercoaster lately, with that loss sparking five defeats in a row. They have now bounced back with four straight wins.

Julius Randle’s hot start

Randle posted his second 30-plus point game against the Raptors this season. Of course when Pascal Siakam drops 52 in the first game, Randle’s scoring is going to get overlooked. That wasn’t the case last night, as he put on a dazzling display of shot making in the first quarter. The first three over Scottie Barnes was routine, but the degree of difficulty increased.

Fred VanVleet was the guy who eventually stopped Randle’s flurry by stripping him before he could get in his shooting motion, causing a 24 second violation.

More Bench Woes

Despite Randle’s start, the Raptors only trailed by four after the first quarter. VanVleet and Siakam subbed out, leaving O.G. Anunoby and Barnes with Malachi Flynn, Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa. Within three minutes, New York extended the lead to 13. Nick Nurse called a timeout, bringing back Fred and Pascal. Achiuwa only played five minutes, which seems like a short leash for a guy who was a big part of the second unit last season.

That small snippet is a microcosm of this season anytime the Raptors main options are off the floor. From there, Toronto played catch up for most of the game. In an ideal world, Nurse could keep his starters minutes in the low 30s with reserves he can trust to keep things afloat. Instead, four of the five starters once again went over 40, with Barnes playing the fewest minutes of the bunch at 36. The Bench Mob of 2018-19 isn’t walking through that door.

Knicks’ answer vs Siakam

It was evident on the Knicks first defensive possession that they weren’t going to let Siakam burn them again. In his career-high 52 point night at MSG, Pascal saw a lot of single coverage. He found driving lanes and his midrange game was going. Last night help was sent Siakam’s way on his drives, including being doubled on his first touch. The driving lanes were clogged, leading to five turnovers. Pascal did get a couple of looks that he hit in New York, but it simply wasn’t his night.

Siakam has hit a mini wall after consistently carrying the Raptors offence all season. He’s shot 8-32 over the last two games, averaging 14.5 points. Meanwhile Fred (28 pts) has been the best Raptor on the court during that stretch. It’s been a rarity this season where the two all-stars have both enjoyed strong performances on the same night. The backcourt combined for 55 points, including Gary Trent Jr. who continues his hot stretch with 27.

The “Fake” comeback

Toronto trailed by 16 points with four minutes left in the fourth. Once again that was too early to turn off the TV because a 17-3 run cut the deficit to two with 40 seconds remaining, eerily similar to the Bucks game on Wednesday but not as dramatic. Jalen Brunson put an end to the rally with an and-one layup, with some expletives mixed in.

Yes it’s entertaining, but equally frustrating that the Raptors can’t find similar energy earlier in games. Having a more aggressive Scottie in the first half would definitely help, as his first basket came in the fourth. The bench minutes are simply a killer. At the end of the day Toronto remains 12th in the East, and are now two games back of a play-in spot.

Here’s Fred’s take on the hole the Raptors have dug to this point.

Up Next: The six game homestand continues on Sunday, hosting Portland. 0-2 so far.

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