The Toronto Raptors needed a victory over the visiting New York Knicks to secure the Atlantic Division title, and keep pace with the stampeding Chicago Bulls. However, a playoff-hungry Knicks squad had enjoyed enough rest to allow its injured warriors, particularly Carmelo Anthony, a return to health. New York took control of a back and forth game in the fourth quarter, made the free throws the Raps were compelled to surrender, and grabbed a win. The Raps finally paid the price for letting sub-.500 teams hang around.
Off the tip, both teams shot like they didn’t have a warm-up, and the score was 1-0 after nearly 3 minutes. Terrence Ross drained a 3-ball to get the Raps on the board. Short shots were rimming out with depressing regularity, although long balls kept the home side in the game. Kyle Lowry hit all 3 he tried, and ended Q1 with 12 points. Stoudamire was working effectively for the Knicks, as was ‘Melo, while J.R. Smith was jacking up jumpers from just over the time line. The Knicks have a severely unbalanced lineup, as their veterans are keeping them barely afloat, but their kids are woeful.
In Q2, the Raps were able to get significant paint penetration as Jonas Valanciunas posted up an overmatched Cole Aldrich several times. DeMar DeRozan, whose jump shot has been disturbingly absent of late, found seams to drive and score from. The Knicks weren’t going away; Stoudamire had 8 rebounds, more than the Raps combined. The Raps were 2 points ahead at intermission.
Both teams heated up in Q3, totalling 63 points. Carmelo’s accurate jumper continued to find the basket (he finished with 30 points, and Stoudamire added 24), while DeMar hit a pair of 3-balls. The Knicks pulled ahead by a point going into Q4, then found another defensive gear. Kyle was the only Rap to make more than one basket, while Grievis Vasquez made the only 3-ball of 7 attempts. The last minute of play took forever, as the irksome NBA rules mandated a dreary procession of intentional fouls and free throws, followed by timeouts – lather, rinse, repeat. When Steve Novak’s 3-pointer with 13 seconds to play was short, the Raps were done.
I dislike writing about poor refereeing, but I can’t ignore it either. Does any pro league baby its stars like the NBA? Carmelo Anthony got every call there was to get, and some there weren’t (Patrick Patterson’s third foul was a dreadful call), and made 13 of 14 free throws as a result. Conversely, DeMar was hacked several times on his way to the hoop, and expressed his displeasure forcefully when no call resulted. Kyle got T-ed up for a similar incident.
Jonas Valanciunas deserves a shout-out for grabbing a career-high 21 rebounds, but he didn’t have much help – that was half the team’s total. I was shocked to note that Amir Johnson logged 17+ minutes, as he was invisible; 3 boards and no points. Is his ankle still giving problems? DeMar led the Raps with 26, including 12 from the line, while Kyle had 25.
The Raps travel to Detroit on Sunday, then play their final home game Monday night against the Bucks.
Atlanta’s defeat of Brooklyn means the Raps “won” the Division anyway, but dropped to the #4 seed when the Pistons couldn’t hold a big lead over the Bulls.