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Break out the Toronto Raptors (21-32)! The club heads into the All-Star break having won four in a row and five of six after outlasting the New York Knicks in a sloppy 92-88 affair at Madison Square Garden.
There was nothing pretty about Wednesday night's contest, which saw the two teams combine to miss 93 of 152 shots (38.8% shooting). Particularly off were the game's two central stars, Rudy Gay and Carmelo Anthony (more on them later).
The difference between the offensively lethargic clubs came in the third quarter, as John Lucas once again led a Raps' charge that saw the back-up point guard lead a 14-5 run after Kyle Lowry was ejected from the game upon receiving his second technical foul of the night, two of six in a not particularly chippy game.
Anderson Finds His Stroke
Both Alan Anderson and JR Smith came off the bench for their respective clubs and scored 26 points. But that's where the similarities among the two wings end. Smith needed 17 shots, including 10 three attempts, and eight free throws in order to boost his stats. Anderson, meanwhile, rediscovered the shooting touch he's been missing to the tune of 10-16 shooting, with a good chunk of that (6-8) coming from three point range. In the end, Anderson finished the night as a plus player (+6), while Smith was significantly outscored during his time on court (-12).
For a good portion of the game, the Knicks showed themselves to be the superior team. Three of the four quarters went in favour of the home team (Toronto took charge in a 28-18 third frame). And yet, they never really seemed all that comfortable or in control. That's probably because the Raptors did an excellent job of taking them out of their comfort zone, refusing to allow open threes (outside of Smith and Steve Novak, NY was 1-11 from deep) and blocking eight shots. Even as their three-point shooting (36%) wasn't up to their high standard this season, it still exceeded their mark over-all from the floor (35.4%). In a way, this current incarnation of the Raps, with at least four capable wing defenders (Anderson, Landry Fields, Rudy Gay and Mickael Pietrus - with DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross on the cusp), is a tough match-up for the Atlantic division leaders.
MSG has seen its share of iconic performances from the biggest stars in sports. Less talked about are the times in which those stars have laid major eggs while playing at the Manhattan shrine. On Wednesday night, Knicks fans were treated to two star stinkers for the price of one. Gay managed just 11 points despite taking 21 shots (4-21 shooting). In spite of his abysmal 19% shooting effort, he still managed a +6 on the night. That's because counterpart Anthony fared no better, with 12 points on 5-24 (20.8%) shooting.
The Rebounding Battle
When your bigs rotation includes a rookie (Jonas Valanciunas) and a non-presence in the paint (Andrea Bargnani), boards will be difficult to come by at times. But when your top rebounder is a SF who played fewer minutes than five teammates (Fields), there are issues. Guess it makes sense, then, to see them outrebounded 52-35 by Tyson Chandler and co., including a 20-8 disadvantage on the offensive glass.
- Even before it began, Fields had already had himself a pretty eventful All-Star break. The former Knick returned to NY in style, making plenty of guys jealous by putting a ring on girlfriend Elaine Alden the morning of the Knicks game. He gets points for creativity, too.
The Raps now head into the All-Star break feeling as good as any 21-32 team can feel. They are next in action on Tuesday night in Washington (7:00pm, SN1), but until then ... T-Ross, you're up!
Prediction: Raps 105, Wizards 100 (34-14 this season)