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Raptors 128, Knicks 112: ‘Defensively, they are so bad’

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Giving up 75 over the middle two quarters? Sacré bleu!

NBA: New York Knicks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks entered Saturday’s Toronto matinee having lost five in a row north of the border and 15 of 18 overall to Les Raptors because the Raptors are better. Toronto won 128-112 today for very much the same reason. But these are not your common-law daddy’s Raptors, nor are they the same ol’ Knicks, and thus while the outcome was predictable, the journey there revealed a great many things.

Drama is phrasing; phrasing is misdirection. In that vein, the Knick defense began the night in impressive fashion, jumping the passing lanes early and often for steals. Toronto opened going nearly four-and-a-half minutes without a field goal. Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to score efficiently, Kevin Knox had his second-best game as a pro, and after one the game was even. The good D and competitive balance was misdirection.

The Raptors go ten deep and their bench set the tone in the second, with Delon Wright and OG Anunoby both hitting first-half double figures. An 8-0 run gave They The North the lead and pretty much control for the duration.

Meanwhile, in the Hall of Justice:

By intermission Hardaway had 19 points, but Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson combined to miss 12 of 14 shots and Kanter put up almost another Kanter first-half triple-double: eight points, 10 rebounds and 20 points surrendered. So unless THJ scored 40 and New York tightened up its D, things were unlikely to change. He didn’t. They didn’t. They didn’t.

In the third the Knicks jabbed their way back into the fight. A 16-6 run pulled them within one.

But remember: drama = misdirection. Toronto obliterated New York with a 30-8 run. This clip from Raiders of the Lost Ark represents the third quarter. The Knicks are Indiana Jones. The dude Indy beats up is the Atlanta Hawks. The big bald dude is the Raptors.

The Knicks lost a game they were never going to win. But they hung for stretches, hung with youth and players who figure to be a part of their future. It’s an entirely different feel than losing this kind of game with Carmelo Anthony, Jarrett Jack, Derrick Rose or Andrea Bargnani playing. Let him that hath understanding count the number of moral victories:

Notes:

  • There is something to be said for valuing hope over cynicism, or pragmatism, whichever term you prefer. The league is full of teams who’ve thrown in the towel while eyeing the throne for the day Golden State abdicates. Toronto could have blown it up three years ago after getting blown out in games 5 and 6 of the conference finals versus Cleveland. Or after getting smacked around in the second round by the Cavs two years ago. Or changing their style of play last year, only to run into the LeBron buzzsaw yet again. They kept working and kept coming up with ways to improve, and here they stand, the best team in the East and best record in the NBA (as of mid-November). If they’re able to sign Kawhi Leonard to an extension, they have enough arresting young talent to attack the future with depth or secure another star, perhaps upgrading Kyle Lowry or Serge Ibaka. It’s easy to root for the Raptors in general: they’re not the hated Celtics, nor the growingly unlikable 76ers. It’s especially easy to root for a team that doesn’t quit and is rewarded for their faith.
  • Hardaway cooled in the second half but still finished with 27 points of 11 of 17. He continues to show growth, as an all-around player and as a scorer who pushes and prods to get the shots he wants, rather than what the defense concedes. I make my share of bad calls, but as I tell my girl, every now and then I get it right.
  • Frank Ntilikina, in one tweet:
  • It feels like Kanter’s missed every jumper he’s taken this season.
  • Knox was aggressive, showing the full range of his repertoire: launching threes, driving to the rim, pulling up. Good to have you back, Rook.
  • When you’re trotting out the youngest team in the league, you get ups and downs. Amidst all the extremes, Dotson has emerged as a rarity: the steadfast contributor. He accorded himself as well as you’d hope for having the bulk of the Kawhi Leonard assignment.
  • Dotson did not shoot well. Dotson did play well. Kind of a big deal to be able to say that about a young Knick. Kristaps Porzingis has shown the ability to contribute beyond buckets. In limited action, Knox has shown the same quality. Ntilikina’s whole schtick is doing things besides scoring. Add a scorer to the mix — say, an elite 7-footer who’s spent most of his career competing at the highest levels of the Western conference, with infinite range who plays like he was designed in a lab to get buckets — and this team could be a-happening quick.
  • Is Allonzo Trier LeBron’s successor as the king of chasedown locks?
  • Trier is 100% the successor to Shane Larkin as the king of “won’t try a buzzer beater ‘cuz he’s protecting his stats.” Worse, he always tries to sell “Oh, I would have taken the shot, dear Reader, if only that defender 12 feet away hadn’t not died from congenital heart defect.”
  • There’s a boy in my daughter’s class who looks like Trier. She has a crush on the boy and therefore, on Trier. Or it’s the other way around. If I’m lucky enough to have a deathbed, that may be a deathbed memory.
  • Thanatosis is the act of playing dead to gain an advantage. In today’s performance, the role of thanatosis will be played by Mitchell Robinson.
  • Your recommended daily allowance of “Robinson did what?!
  • No Trey Burke tonight.
  • It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where Ron Baker is?
  • Jonas Valanciunas took a cheap shot at Trier and played Romulus to Kanter’s Remus in their two-man homage to prehistoric combat. It was like watching a rock fight a hard place.
  • Free throw attempts: Toronto 40. New York 22.
  • Three-point attempts: Toronto 35. New York 22.
  • Two-point attempts: Toronto 44. New York 74.
  • Back in the mid-90s, Hubert Davis was the king of dumb touch fouls, the kind where someone’s got all the momentum heading to the rim and instead of letting them score or wrapping them up/knocking them down so they can’t, he’d tap them lightly, like a mother making sure her sleeping baby is breathing, and give up a three-point play. In the 2000s, Allan Houston took up this mantle. I’ve always associated this type of impotence with guards and wings. Kanter has assumed the role. If I had more video evidence to share, I’d show you. It happened many times today.
  • At one point in the first the teams were 4 of 14 from downtown. Analytics will tell you that’s the way to play: hitting 29% of threes nets as many points as 38% of your twos. And obviously, teams generally combine to shoot a higher percentage from downtown than 29%. But as a fan, it is dull and ugly watching two teams shoot 29% on a bunch of threes. Every professional sport is a balancing act between incentives to win and incentives to entertain. I don’t feel that I’m as entertained as I once was. When the modern game is clicking, it can be exhilarating. When it’s off, it’s like waiting for a screen to buffer.
  • The American/Canadian currency rate currently stands at $1 American = $1.32 Canadian. It also allows for any Raptor to be credited with continuation on a foul call if they are within 50 feet of the basket. Happened more than once today.

Quoth Kaisersoser37: “Defensively, they are so bad.” Quick turnaround as the Knicks host Orlando tomorrow night. The Magic are bottom-third in points this season. As good a time as any to work on the defense.