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Knicks 102, Raptors 96: “RJ brings such a calmness to the game”

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Relax and let the W wash over you.

Toronto Raptors v New York Knicks Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Last night’s 102-96 win over the visiting Toronto Raptors brought the Knicks back to .500, snapping New York’s nine-game losing streak to the kings of the North. It also dropped the Knicks’ magic number for some sort of postseason to 13. I’ve been recapping this team since 2014 and this is the first time the playoffs have been a thing worth looking forward to. For years now the Knicks have been a team others see on the schedule as a W. This season they’re defending their homecourt and fattening up on the league’s weaker clubs. The Knicks are now the ones seeing other teams as Ws.

In some ways this was the Knicks’ biggest win in years. The Raptors faint play-in hopes needed a boost and appeared to receive one with the return of Kyle Lowry, back after missing six games with a foot infection, and Pascal Siakam, who sat the night before in their win over Cleveland. Here was New York’s first opportunity to swat back a team trying to get on their heels. How would they respond?

Mostly pretty well! As is the Knicks’ m.o., their success was built on their defense and Julius Randle on the offensive end. A night after putting up 47 first-quarter points in Cleveland, Toronto managed only 16 at MSG on 24% shooting from the field. The Knicks were active forcing turnovers and getting out in transition.

With Nerlens Noel owning the defensive glass, Julius was free to go all free-range Randle on offense. He was still his typical distributing delight while also showing more aggression looking to score as he as in a few games. Hanging and banging, winging and slinging: New York’s star was fully shining.

The lead was 11 after one and would grow in the second. The Knicks shot 3-of-36 from 3 in the team’s last meeting and weren’t much better in this one, but RJ Barrett and Randle were doing damage in more conventional ways.

The defense held Toronto to 31% shooting in the first half, and honestly a lot of times the Raptors’ best results on offense were missed shots.

The Knicks were owning the paint and in the third quarter consecutive Barrett and Bullock 3s put them up 18. They were in the current, they were the current, and the Raptors were helpless against it. They’d need something to break the momentum, and they’d get it when water dripping from the Garden’s ceiling caused a wet spot on the court that needed 15 minutes to fix. Behind Lowry, Siakam and Gary Trent Jr., Toronto went on a 40-15 run that extended into the fourth quarter. After Yuta Watanabe put them ahead for the first time all night, Malachi Flynn sought to apply the finishing touches.

A Rodney Hood downtown splash saw the Knicks down seven, but then they caught a weird break of their own. During a timeout the replay center concluded Flynn’s heel was touching the sideline when he hit one of his 3s, so the shot was canceled. I don’t see it, but I’m not complaining.

The Knicks fought back to re-take the lead: a Barrett breakaway was goaltended, tying it at 87, then a pair of Randle free throws put New York up two. Alec Burks was scoreless entering the fourth but hit a few big baskets late, including a 3-pointer to put the Knicks up five after a beautiful sequence of ball movement and a sweet find of a cutting Randle.

The Raptors missed maaaaad good looks late, including multiple wide-open 3s, but couldn’t connect. A tough Lowry lay-up brought them within one. But the two best players on the court all night came together to seemingly salt this one away.

But when is life ever that simple? Noel goaltended a Siakam shot to make it a two-point game with 30 seconds left. On the Knicks’ next possession Burks threw an awful pass that led to a turnover and a Toronto transition try, but Siakam double-dribbled, saving the game for New York. Randle hit four free throws to bump up the final score, and with five seconds left Frank Ntilikina, the world’s most handsome human victory cigar, checked in. This win won’t go down in history, but in a lotta ways it was a milestone effort for the 2021 Knicks.

Notes

  • RJ again with the late-and-close clutchness after his efforts late in the Memphis win. MSG showed a graphic that he’s now 5-of-10 on shots to tie or take the lead with two minutes or less in fourth quarters/overtimes this year.
  • Noel with a season-high 13 rebounds along with four blocks and nine points. He had as many offensive rebounds — five — as the entire Raptors team. He’s such a great shot-blocker. Where does he rank among Knicks you’ve seen? Patrick Ewing, Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler, Mitchell Robinson...where does Noel fall?
  • I feel we’ve seen more jumpballs already this season than ever before. Also saw something new in this one: Flynn had a jump ball I think against Burks and didn’t jump. He ended up with the ball somehow, but it was waved off ‘cuz I guess you have to jump if you’re in a jump ball.
  • Kevin Knox played the first five minutes or so of the fourth quarter.
  • I respect Tom Thibodeau’s lack of practicality when it comes to coach’s challenges. He’s not necessarily Garry Kasparov when/how he deploys them, but he uses them to right wrongs and defend his players’ honor and I’m okay with that. Sydney Carton would be proud of you, Thibs.
  • MSG trivia: Who were the last five Knicks with triple-doubles pre-Randle?
  • Hood, a lefty, missed an elbow 3. Anytime I see a Toronto southpaw square up from deep I still assume it’s Morris Peterson.
  • At the half Rebecca Haarlow interviewed Kenny Payne and called him “Coach.” Am I the only person who finds that just ridiculous?

Poll

Non-players calling coaches "Coach" — yay or nay?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    It’s fine.
    (304 votes)
  • 14%
    It’s ridiculous.
    (50 votes)
354 votes total Vote Now
  • I am so ready for 4/20 this year and maybe Clyde Frazier is, too.
  • Trivia answer: Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, Jarrett Jack, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton.

Quoth Moshe52792: “RJ brings such a calmness to the game.” RJ marches to the beat of his own adagio and it’s a beat more people would be wise to march to. Next game is in 7-8 hours against the LeBron-and-AD-less Lakers. Go get that win, Knickerbockers.