Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 118-112 win over the New York Knicks.
One — Difficult: This game was tougher than it needed to be and give the Knicks credit for battling. Unlike previous iterations of this team, the Knicks actually competed for the full 48 minutes, didn’t cave when the Raptors went up by double-digits, and fought right until the very end. The Raptors had to climb out of an early deficit and earn this 18th victory in the team’s last 19 meetings against the Knicks.
Two — Star: Now that he was named an All-Star starter, the next step in Pascal Siakam’s development is learning how to close out a game. That’s not necessarily easy because Siakam isn’t the prototypical point forward that controls every possession and makes every decision. But what this team needs is for Siakam to be that killer finisher in the fourth quarter, just as he was tonight. Siakam slammed the door on the Knicks with two spectacular plays — first by exploding through two defenders for a dunk, then by pulling up for three when the defense played him to drive. Siakam was awesome tonight.
Three — Missing: Hopefully the All-Star nod also comes with some respect from the officials for Siakam, who only ended up at the line three times. On one play before halftime, Siakam went hard to the rim in transition and was slapped so hard across his arm that the sound ricocheted through the TV broadcast — and still there was no call. Out of the top-20 scorers in the NBA, Siakam ranks dead last in free-throw attempts (4.5 per game), which doesn’t add up. Siakam is always trying to attack inside and routinely faces contact, so why is he trailing behind the likes of Zach LaVine and Donovan Mitchell?
Four — Heart: The greatest thing about Kyle Lowry is that he cares. Arguably, you could say he cares too much because it’s really not worth sacrificing your body to dive for a loose ball in the first quarter of a Knicks game in January. But he does care and that passion from the captain trickles down to the rest of the team. If the soon-to-be six-time All-Star is hitting the deck, then you better fall in line. Lowry was hardly at his best tonight, but he willed his way to the free-throw line for 14 attempts and concocted a genius play on defense on the Knicks’ final possession: he sat on Julius Randle’s right hand on a post-entry pass, only to swipe it away when he came down with the ball.
Five — Boost: You could set your watch to Norman Powell’s nightly explosions in the second half. Powell completely took over at the end of the third with a steal leading to a transition layup, a pull-up triple off a high screen, another three coming out of the fourth quarter, and then a pair of dimes to cap off a personal 12-0 run. Powell’s production is single-handedly carrying the bench and if he keeps this up, there could be a legitimate case for Powell to challenge for Sixth Man of the Year.
Six — Growth: The best part of Powell’s run was the back-to-back assists. On the first, he led the fast break before splitting three Knicks defenders to find Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for an easy dunk. On the second, Powell came off a pin-down with Serge Ibaka, then slipped a slick bounce pass to Ibaka rolling to the basket for another dunk. These plays speak to Powell’s improved ability to read the defense and to the added defensive attention he is drawing.
Seven — Invisible: Credit to OG Anunoby for calmly swishing a three down the stretch after riding the pine for most of the fourth quarter, but he’s been strangely uninvolved over the past week. After tallying just six points over his past three games, head coach Nick Nurse put the onus on himself to call more plays for Anunoby to be involved, yet he was nowhere to be found. Anunoby subsisted off simple cuts and loose balls, but there was no concerted effort to set him up. Granted, Anunoby would be able to create more of his own offense if he were more engaged on defense, but the point stands nonetheless.
Eight — Sloppy: The jumbo combo of Ibaka and Marc Gasol seemed like the obvious choice to close the game given how persistent the Knicks were on the offensive glass. However, the two veterans were oddly discombobulated in their short stint together. They miscommunicated on defense to allow an open corner three and then lost track of Julius Randle who made his way inside for a putback on his own open layup. Ordinarily, the tandem of Ibaka and Gasol are more locked-in defensively, so this game may have just been a blip. Still, Nurse was frustrated enough to whistle for a timeout and bench Ibaka after only a minute.
Nine — Length: The Knicks nearly won this game simply because they were bigger across the board. As much stick as the Knicks receive for having six power forwards on the team, the makeup did create mismatches against the Raptors. One solution for the Raptors could have been to deploy Chris Boucher more at power forward instead of Hollis-Jefferson, who makes all of his defensive efforts moot by inexplicably missing layups. Boucher has been relegated to garbage duty since the Raptors returned to health, but there are definitely situations and matchups in which his unique skillset would be useful.
Ten — Buy-low: Marcus Morris would be a nice addition for a playoff team ahead of the trade deadline and it’s surprising that there isn’t more chatter around him. Morris is averaging 19 points per game while shooting 46 percent on six attempts per game. He’s more bark than bite on defense, but he can hold his own when he’s engaged. Morris would be a difficult target for the Raptors as his $15-million price tag would necessitate Powell or Ibaka going back the other way in the deal, but that’s the type of addition that the Raptors should be looking to make if they want to gear up for another deep playoff run.
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