Coming off of three straight wins, this was a big test for a Knicks team that had it’s eight game winning streak ended by the Raptors just a couple of weeks ago. In what was a pretty closely contested first quarter, the Knicks offense got off to a slow start early on as a Julius Randle step back three was the only basket in the first two and a half minutes of the game. Meanwhile, Toronto used some balanced scoring from Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Gary Trent Jr. to take an early lead. Randle then suddenly caught fire with three more threes, most of which were very well contested by OG Anunoby, to carry the Knicks offense. The first break came at the 6:04 mark when the Raptors called a timeout and the Knicks held on to a 19-15 lead. But it was a rather unconvincing lead since the offense, outside of Randle’s outstanding shot-making, was largely unimpressive.
The Knicks then came out of the break and were able to string together a few stops and got out to a 28-20 lead as Randle continued his 19-point first quarter onslaught. But the lead only lasted a couple of minutes as Toronto did a great job of battling back. They survived Randle’s insane first quarter performance with some stingy defense and some solid team offense led by nine points from VanVleet and seven points from Trent Jr. After 12 minutes, the Knicks led 30-26.
The beginning of the second quarter was a nice one for the Knicks. They came out on the right foot and played with some nice energy while the Raptors’ bench unit really struggled to score much like they have all season long. After Deuce McBride hit a 3 and Randle followed it up with a step back midrange jumper on the right baseline, the Knicks took a 39-28 lead. And just a seconds later, Immanuel Quickley followed it up with a nice floater to cap off what was a quick 9-0 run forcing the Raptors’ Nick Nurse to urgently call a timeout to stop the bleeding.
The Knicks then faced a tough task as Randle came out of the game for the first time leading to them having to go with a double center lineup with both Jericho Sims and Mitchell Robinson while Toronto came back with a lot of their starters. Fortunately, the Raptors could not really capitalize on the Knicks’ lack of speed as they struggled to make the open shots they did get and the Knicks were able to impose their will by using their size to secure rebounds, both defensive and offensive. Then Jalen Brunson suddenly went on a mini 6-0 run of his own as he knocked down back-to-back threes to give the Knicks a 49-32 lead at the 5:28 of the second quarter.
But the former champions did find a way to weather the storm (relatively speaking) as the quarter went on. The Knicks started to slow down a bit offensively and the Raptors were able to get to the line to mitigate their poor shooting. That being said, Toronto was never able to put together an extended run as they continued to make mistakes on the defensive end. Thaddeus Young was caught sleeping on an inbounds play that led to an easy alley-oop for Robinson, and a few possessions later, they failed to box Robinson out and an offensive rebound led to a Quentin Grimes mid range jump shot to give the Knicks a 56-41 lead. But the Knicks had an incredibly poor end to the half. The offense got increasingly stagnant as their off-ball movement decreased and we saw more and more isolation plays and the Raptors, more specifically Chris Boucher, got out on the break to cut the lead to just 10.
Despite being up 57-47 going in to halftime, it was still an uneasy feeling for Knicks fans because it’s been well documented just how poor this team can be at closing games and everybody knows that letting a veteran team stay within striking distance at home is a very dangerous game to play. And because of that, it was imperative for the Knicks to come out of the break with the focus and energy they started the game with. Unfortunately, they failed to do so in the early crucial minutes of the second half as the offense was mostly reliant on tough contested jumpers and Trent Jr. scored five quick points in the first three minutes to help Toronto cut the lead to five. Much of the next few minutes were a back and forth affair with neither team able to go on a sustained run. But Toronto was able to cut the lead to just one at the 3:06 mark as Christian Koloko had a put-back dunk off of a Trent Jr. missed shot. Randle quickly answered with a three on the other end to put the Knicks back up by four before a Raptors timeout but it was apparent now that this was a brand new game.
The fourth quarter began with the Knicks up 81-78 and without Randle, Brunson, or Randle on the court. So a lot of the offensive pressure was on Immanuel Quickley, who finished the third quarter wish a pair of made free throws. And the third year guard answered. He started the final period with a nice floater and then drew another foul to score two more points from the line to give the Knicks some breathing room with an 85-78 lead. The lead kept growing as the Raptors second unit continued to struggle to put the ball in the hoop, leading to an 8-0 run to start the quarter. At the 10:05 mark, New York led 89-78. Toronto came back with their starters shortly after but New York, who saw the unlikely duo of Evan Fournier and Deuce McBride (the former of which assisted on the latter’s make) connect on back to back threes within a 33 second span, managed to go up 95-82 with 8:29 left. The nexts few minutes were then dominated by the trio of Brunson, Randle, and Quickley as the trio combined for the team’s next 10 points to go up 105-89.
But just when we thought we could sit back, relax, and watch the Knicks cruise the rest of the way, they decided to give us one last scare, because it’s not a Knicks game if things go smoothly. Toronto utilized a full court press and New York swiftly turned the ball over and gave up a VanVleet three. A couple of VanVleet free throws later, it was suddenly back down to a seven point game with 1:29 left. Add in another stagnant offensive possession and a Siakam corner three and the Raptors had clawed all the back to make it a four point game with 49 seconds left. And when Randle missed one of two free throws and Trent Jr. came down with a three on the other end, it seemed like deja vu all over again. Thankfully for the Knicks and Knicks fans, Brunson came through with an extremely tough and one as he drove past VanVleet and made a lefty layup after drawing contact with a pump fake. And that was pretty much all she wrote. The Knicks came away with a 112-108 victory giving them their first win in Toronto since 2015 and giving coach Thibodeau his 100th win as the coach of the Knicks.
JALEN BRUNSON— KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) January 7, 2023
CLUTCH AND-1 ❄️❄️❄️ pic.twitter.com/GGl6xSVurX
It wasn’t the prettiest win but Thibodeau alluded to it being, “a good overall win”. Randle led the way with 32 points and 11 rebounds, Brunson chipped in with 26 points and 8 assists, Grimes and Quickley poured in 16 and 13 respectively and Robinson rebounded form his horrendous performance against the Spurs with a dominant 10 point 18 rebound performance. And it was huge for the starting lineup to play as well as they did. It was just the third time all season that every starter scored double digit points, and they needed every last bit of it against a Raptors team that heavily leans on their starters. Obviously this team will eventually need to learn how to close out games and put teams away. But in a season where the team has collapsed and lost so many close games, it’s nice to see them pull out back to back close ones. Coming to town on Monday will be Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Can they make it five straight?