The Toronto Raptors (13-15) are putting some distance between themselves and some of their Atlantic division rivals - well, one anyway. The Raps were far from perfect on Saturday night, but the effort was enough to give them their second win over the New York Knicks in as many days, a 115-100 triumph in which they outscored their opponents in each of the four quarters.
Kyle Lowry, the target of longing chants from the MSG faithful on Christmas Day, showed New York just what they were missing out on, posting 32 points on 10-17 shooting and coming two rebounds shy of a triple-double in a tour de force performance. The club's highest-scoring performance of the season also came courtesy of the three-ball, as Toronto made 15 on 32 attempts, making it an even 25 on 60 tries over the Knicks series.
With the win. the Raptors remain one game ahead of the Boston Celtics and have at least four games on the rest of the division.
I'm not sure whether the Raps' new found three-happy offence is the start of a trend or a team-specific tactic deployed against New York, but I'm also not sure it matters. If it's a new trend, then Saturday represents an encouraging early sign, with Terrence Ross, who led the charge last night in making seven of 11 along the way to 23 points on 8-16 shooting, serving as a pretty good anchor. If it's a tactic, it serves as a promising sign against a team who they will meet twice more this season. Against New York, the three-point shooting (and related pressure on Knick defenders to step out and challenge) help clear the paint and spurred the home side to a 45-37 rebounding advantage.
Getting to the Line
When they weren't knocking down three's, Toronto's offence was getting production from the charity stripe. For the second time in as many nights, the Raps made more free throws (28, on 34 attempts) than the opposing Knicks had free throw opportunities (20). Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas were particularly productive from the stripe, combining for 21-25 shooting. All told, the three-point and free throw shooting accounted for a considerable 63.5% of the team's offensive attack.
Not Much Help from the Bench, Part 2
If you want to look on the bright side for the Raptors' bench, their 7-19 shooting on Saturday night represented a step up from Friday's 6-25 effort in New York. Still, it's hardly something for the group of Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vazquez, John Salmons and Tyler Hansbrough to hang their hat on. Their 23 points were decidedly overshadowed by the 48 points registered by the Knicks' bench. In fact, the production of Toronto's back-up quartet was matched by just Amare Stoudemire, who dominated the reserves with 9-12 shooting. It may be time to see whether the Raps' DNP-CD group, which includes capable pros in Chuck Hayes, Steve Novak and Landry Fields, to see some floor time.
The game's Goat Award has got to go to D-League call-up Toure Murry. With the Knicks enjoying a momentum-building 8-1 run in the fourth quarter that cut the deficit to six points, Murry got tripped up while attempting to guard Lowry. Rather than hope for some help 'D', he took a reckless swat that connected with Lowry's mid-section. The flagrant foul, and subsequent two-free-throws-plus-possession penalty that led to five points by the Raps' point guard, completely shifted the momentum and directly led to a 14-5 Toronto run the rest of the way.
With the loss, the Knicks are now 9-21, five games back of Toronto in the Atlantic and four back of Boston for the No. 8 spot in the East. While those are hardly impossible-to-overcome hurdles, particularly if they can get a healthy Carmelo Anthony back soon, it would require a massive turn-around to establish any hope of a long postseason run. You have to wonder, then, if continued struggles could alter the trade wins that currently have them positioned as buyers (Lowry, Rajon Rondo) and transform them into sellers.
A couple of pending in-conference tests await the Raps. The club will head to Chicago for a New Year's Eve date with the Bulls (8:00pm, TSN2) before returning home to welcome the Pacers to town on New Year's Day (7:00pm, TSN).
Due to my limited New Year's availability, I'll be doubling up the Bulls and Pacers' recaps and have a merged effort for you guys on Jan. 2nd. Happy New Year!
Prediction: Raps 94, Bulls 91 / Pacers 104, Raps 92 (14-6 this season)