Here’s 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 128-92 victory over the New York Knicks.
One – Pathetic: The Knicks didn’t come out to play. It’s as simple as that. New York conceded two open threes and a layup in the first minute of the third quarter after trailing by 19 at halftime and a disgusted David Fizdale promptly benched his entire starting five. The reserves then coughed up a 10-2 run while bleeding more uncontested threes and a pair of layups. Even by Knicks standards, this was an embarrassment.
Two – Teamwork: That being said, this was still an impressive performance by the Raptors regardless of the circumstances. Eight players finished in double-digits while the Raptors matched a season-high 36 assists. Toronto has made a habit of playing down to their competition this season, so this was a nice change of pace.
Three – Unfortunate: However, it’s hard to fully enjoy this result because Kyle Lowry limped off the court with a sore right ankle. Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson made a poor attempt at the ball after the 7-footer lost the rebound to a man half his size, and then clumsily dove in for a hopeless steal and rolled over Lowry’s legs. It wasn’t a dirty play, but it was reckless and completely unnecessary. Fortunately, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports that Lowry’s injury isn’t believed to be serious, but that was before he underwent any medical tests.
Four – Fury: Nick Nurse caught some heat for leaving Lowry in with the Raptors up 34, but that’s just unfair. It’s not as if Nurse was being reckless – there were still over five minutes left in the third quarter at the time of the injury. Players need to get their minutes (Lowry finished with 26 before his night was cut short) and the intensity of the game never registered above a glorified preseason scrimmage. It was just bad luck.
Five – Zipping: The Raptors are obviously better with Kawhi Leonard (load management) in the lineup, but there’s a noticeable difference in how they share the ball in his absence. Every Raptor in the starting five was a threat to score, and nobody forced their shots because they knew the Knicks defense was guaranteed to come apart so long as the Raptors just strung together a few passes. Swapping out a scorer like Leonard with another passer in VanVleet led to gorgeous sequences like the one below:
Six – Variety: Just about everything worked against the Knicks, but one worthwhile wrinkle the Raptors tried was Marc Gasol rolling to the rim instead of popping out for three. VanVleet, in particular, showed great chemistry with Gasol as he patiently delayed his drive to bait the defense to rotate, before feeding the ball the big Spaniard. Gasol has struggled on post-ups (he mostly settles for contested turnaround jumpers) but he does have good touch around the rim and knows how to get open.
Seven – One to watch: Another nifty play the Raptors tried was a variant of the Spain pick-and-roll, where the first screener gets a second screen by a third player in the usual pick-and-roll set-up. This time, Lowry popped to the perimeter after giving Gasol a back screen, and he got an open three out of it as two defenders were occupied by Gasol’s cut down the middle, but there’s also usually an option for the ball handler to drive all the way to the rim.
Eight – Positive: Jeremy Lin made good use of extended garbage time and finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Lin is at his best when he’s attacking the rim, and the Knicks offered very little resistance. Lin’s minutes are still in jeopardy now that VanVleet is back in the lineup, but this game has to do wonders for Lin’s shattered confidence. It doesn’t matter that it came against a tanking team on the second night of a back-to-back – Lin just needs to see the ball go through the hoop right now.
Nine – Versatile: Serge Ibaka’s suspension, coupled with Eric Moreland picking up three fouls in five minutes, forced OG Anunoby into action as an emergency backup centre. Anunoby held his ground against DeAndre Jordan in the post, and also showed sharp defensive instincts by collecting a pair of blocks at the basket. Anunoby won’t ever see consistent minutes at the five, but part of the allure of his game is that Anunoby can switch onto just about anybody.
Ten – A moment of appreciation: The Raptors are way beyond regular season accolades, but it’s still worth celebrating that this historically inept franchise has now strung together four-straight 50-win seasons. It’s a testament to how far they have come that 50 wins no longer matters in the slightest. This is a franchise with nothing but three division banners in the stands, yet dares to aspire for more. And for the first time in franchise history, a Finals appearance isn’t entirely out of the picture.
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