Written by William Lee
After the Christmas Day beat down the Knicks received at the hands of the Thunder, the Knicks start a home and home against the Raptors Friday night. Toronto has been playing a lot better lately, they are 5-3 since the Rudy Gay trade, with two of the losses coming from the defending Western Conference Champion Spurs. Toronto come into Friday night the Atlantic Division leader, with New York only three games back of the Division crown, which will automatically give the team no less than fourth seed in the playoffs.
The Knicks were again without their leading scorer Carmelo Anthony due to a left sprained ankle. Andrea Bargnani got out to a hot start, scoring ten points in the first quarter against his former team, that made him a No. 1 overall draft pick in 2006. The first quarter was a display of extremely sloppy basketball, with neither team taking care of the basketball. Toronto had seven turnovers, New York was even worse, with eight. Though the Knicks were able to overcome all the turnovers in the first quarter by playing great defense, forcing the Raptors to shoot 35.3% from the field, leading 25-18 after one period.
There was more ugly basketball in the second quarter, with both teams shooting no more than 40% from the field. J.R. Smith was the lone Knick making any shots in the quarter. Smith hit all four attempts, three of which were threes, for a total of 11 point. The Raptors took the lead, after a Terrance Ross three, leading 37-36 with 3:17 remaining in the first half. The Knicks would answer, ending the second quarter on a 13- 3 run, to take a 49-40 lead.
The Knicks pushed their lead to as much as 12 early in the third quarter, behind a Tim Hardaway Jr. three, who shot great from distance, 4/5 from downtown for the game. The Raptors got going from beyond the arc as well in the third quarter, hitting four threes in the quarter. New York and Toronto went back and forth in the third quarter, the turning point in the game came from someone that played 13 minutes and committed four fouls. The Knicks led 69-61 with under two minutes to play in the third quarter, Tyler Hansbrough committed a loose ball foul on Amare Stoudemire, who missed both free throws. On the second miss, Hansbrough got tangled up with J.R. Smith, and sent him to the line. Smith would also miss both of his attempts, and on the second miss Stoudemire got tangled up with who else…Hansbrough, going for the rebound, and sent him to the charity stripe. While the Knicks missed four straight free throws, Hansbrough would make the most of his opportunity, converting on both. What could have been a double digit lead for the Knicks was trimmed down instead, this was the momentum switch that the Raptors needed.
The Raptors would continue to trim into the Knicks’ lead, holding New York scoreless for the first three minutes in the fourth quarter. Toronto eventually took the lead behind a John Salmons’ three with 8:07 remaining in the fourth quarter 74-73. The first quarter magic from Andrea Bargnani disappeared, going 2/10 after the spectacular first quarter start. So did the effective second quarter play from J.R Smith, who chucked up seven shots and committed three fouls in the fourth quarter. The Knicks were held to five made field goals in the final period, shooting 26.3% from the field. The Raptors would take the lead and never look back, outscoring the Knicks 29-12 in the fourth quarter. The Knicks would go on to lose the game 95-83.
New York could not stop dribble penetration without fouling, sending Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to the charity stripe a combined 22 times. And when the guards weren’t sent to the line, Jonas Valanciunas cleaned up their mess, grabbing seven offensive rebounds for a total of 18 rebounds in the game. This marked a career high in rebounds for the sophomore from Lithuania, who also scored 16 points and blocked a couple of shots. Mike Woodson has one day to figure out how to solve these issues, and get back the one game in the standings that they lost tonight, as they fly out to Canada for the second half of their home and home with the Toronto Raptors.