After being completely overmatched by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day, the New York Knicks were facing a more forgiving and friendlier sort of opponent on Friday night when they squared off against the Toronto Raptors. There, when testing themselves against another team that is below .500, was the true test for the New York Knicks this season. While they will find it impossible sledding to go up against the NBA's best and win, there is still nothing that prevents them from being the best of the mediocre teams in the league as a win against the Raptors would have proven that there are some opponents against whom the Knicks can prove some relative superiority.
That is, there was nothing preventing the Knicks from winning until their own crumbling level of play in the fourth quarter doomed them to a 95-83 loss after they entered the fourth quarter holding onto a five-point lead. It was a lead that lasted a little less than four minutes, an evaporation made possible by the Knicks finding it more than they could handle to continue putting the ball in the basket.
During those four minutes in which their lead was ebbing away like low tides, the Knicks were ice cold, going 1 for 6 from the field. Also, in order to prove they had the ability to waste possessions in something other than missed field goal attempts, the Knicks also contrived to turn the ball over twice during that time span.
Their poor level of play is something they kept up for the entire quarter, not limiting their lack of basketball acumen to just the first third of the fourth quarter. For the rest of the contest, from the moment they lost their five-point lead to the time when the clock mercifully ran out on their bumbling style of play, the Knicks only made four of their 13 field goal attempts, shot just two free throws with Andrea Bargnani at least converting on both of them, and turned the ball over twice. The meager reward for the Knicks' lackluster shooting in the fourth quarter was a paltry 12 points; the main culprit for the poor shooting efforts in the fourth quarter was J.R. Smith, who only made one of his six field goal attempts in the period.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, the Raptors did not share any of the difficulties faced by the Knicks in the final period. While the Knicks were mired in offensive futility, the Raptors were scorching the nets with their hot shooting, relative to what they had done over the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, the Raptors shot 9 for 18 from the field including two three-pointers and also went 9 of 14 from the free throw line.
Struggles at the free throw line, mostly courtesy of DeMar DeRozan who missed four free throws by himself, kept the Raptors from having an even more impressive fourth quarter performance, but even so, the way in which they shot so well from the field, putting together a fourth-quarter effective field goal percentage of 55.6 percent, elevated their final effective field goal percentage to 54.3 percent. Over the first three quarters, the Raptors had been held by the Knicks to a 47.3 effective field goal percentage.
In blowing the fourth quarter in such thorough fashion, the Knicks missed a golden opportunity to hold onto something positive, the knowledge that they are not doomed to fall in defeat to every single opponent they face. Even without Carmelo Anthony and Pablo Prigioni, still missing due to injuries, the Knicks still had a possible victory in their grasp, only to let it slip away during the final twelve minutes of the game by virtue of some truly horrific shooting. Still, with ten other Eastern Conference foes currently sitting below .500, the Knicks will have other opportunities to lay claim to being one of the better mediocre teams in the league.