After a tough loss that pushed the losing streak to three, the Knicks look to get back on track with a win over the Raptors.
The New York Knicks will be battle-tested once again, as they face the Toronto Raptors for the third time in the month of January and the fourth and final time this season. As it stands, the Knicks hold a 1-2 record against Toronto this season, having defeated them on the road after two narrow home losses. Considering that New York fares better on the road than at home this season, tonight’s matchup will be crucial, given that the Raptors find themselves seven games below .500 and outside of the play-in picture.
It goes without saying that Mitchell Robinson’s injury hurt the Knicks’ interior from both an offensive and defensive perspective. No matter how tough the loss is for New York’s success, Jalen Brunson did a great job explaining the mentality that they have amid this rough patch for the team after their loss to the Atlanta Hawks:
Brunson recognizes how important Robinson is to the team’s success, but with a tough schedule looming ahead in the coming weeks, the entire Knicks team will have to stay ready for the obstacles they may face, including their divisional matchup this evening in Toronto.
Outside of Robinson, Immanuel Quickley is listed as questionable for the Knicks, in what could potentially be a huge blow to the team’s bench and overall scoring output. For the Raptors, Fred VanVleet and O.G. Anunoby are listed as Day-to-Day. Anunoby played in the Raptors’ loss to the Bucks on Saturday, while VanVleet did not. Considering this game is a back-to-back for Toronto, it will be interesting to see who will and won’t be available when six o’clock rolls around. Regardless, New York must be ready for whatever is thrown their way as each and every game becomes pivotal to how their season pans out, considering they have the second toughest schedule to finish out the second half of the season.
The Center Debacle
Since Mitchell Robinson sustained a broken finger that will now sideline him for a few weeks, the Knicks must address the center position in one way or another, with Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein primed to play larger roles in the coming weeks. Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks saw Jericho Sims manning the middle for the Knicks. While he found success from making some strong moves on the inside for a career-high 12 points, his efforts weren’t enough as the Knicks as a whole were outrebounded 39-34. While it definitely looks to be a small margin in the rebounding category, it doesn’t tell the entire story. Both the Knicks and the Hawks ended up shooting a high percentage for the game, which yielded fewer rebounds. In spite of this, New York was unable to secure the rebounds that matter most, as they allowed Atlanta to grab 14 offensive rebounds, helping them generate 23 points off of second-chance opportunities.
After starting Sims on Friday night, it will be intriguing to see if the Knicks continue to give him the green light, or opt to give Isaiah Hartenstein another try with the starters. No matter who New York starts between the two, their combined 4-6 track record as starters shows that it may be time to look elsewhere. While a trade seems like the answer that makes the most sense, it would be interesting to see Thibodeau roll out a smaller lineup, one that could feature Julius Randle and Obi Toppin as the four and five. As interesting as it may appear, it’s unlikely this happens, especially with Tom Thibodeau preferring a traditional center to man the middle.
Breaking Down the Defense
Even with the Knicks ranking seventh in offensive rating on the season, their offense still struggles to get moving at times. Ranking 24th in field goal percentage, 21st in free throw percentage, and 28th in assists per game, New York’s offense comes down to the success of their top three of RJ Barrett, Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle. In the last couple of weeks, the Knicks have seen a variety of defenses thrown at them, and some they still haven’t been able to crack. In particular, zone defense has been something that has been a red flag for the Knicks, struggling to knock down shots even if they can break down the front lines of the zone. The Toronto Raptors have played a mixture of man-to-man defense and zone defense in all of their matchups against the Knicks, and it has seemingly worked, with New York going cold from the field, allowing the Raptors to make a run, helping put the game away in the process.
Something to mention regarding the Raptors’ defense is their length, especially when it is used in the zone. At times, the Raptors have rolled out lineups that feature Scottie Barnes as the lead ball handler alongside a handful of lanky players. When this type of lineup plays a zone, it has been difficult for the Knicks to gain any sort of traction, with deflections being nearly inevitable, favoring the Raptors to get out on the fast break. It’ll be important for the Knicks to overcome this adversity, absorb the contact, and draw fouls. Not only will this enable them to get to the line and get easy shots and save time, it can break up the zone if a player gets into foul trouble. It will be a battle for Tom Thibodeau’s team in this matchup, but they’ll give every last effort they can to get the job done against a divisional rival.
Matchup to Watch: Quentin Grimes versus Gary Trent Jr.
As much as he is a trade target, Gary Trent Jr. has been key to the Raptors’ success when facing the Knicks, knocking down threes in pivotal points in the game to give his team momentum. Combined with his relentless defense around the perimeter, Quentin Grimes will have his hands full against Trent Jr. and Toronto. In two games against New York this season, Trent Jr. has averaged 22.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists, shooting an impressive 50% from behind the arc in the process. As versatile as the Raptors can be, it should always be a focus to limit what the former Duke guard is doing on the floor. If the Knicks let him see his shot fall, they’ll be in trouble because he can get it going with ease.
Thankfully, Quentin Grimes plays a similar type of role for the Knicks, as he knocks down crucial shots and plays spectacular defense. In his two games against Toronto this season, he’s averaged 13.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists as he shot 42.9% from downtown. Even with Grimes putting together formidable numbers in both matchups against Toronto, he hasn’t seen as many shots as some would’ve hoped. Shooting 3-for-5 for 10 points in their last game against Toronto, he was essentially an afterthought in the Knicks’ 123-121 overtime loss to the Raptors less than a week ago, even after hitting one of the bigger shots in the game for New York. While it’s hard to get him a much higher volume of shots given Brunson, Randle, and Barrett’s responsibilities in the offensive workload, they should look for him more as he continues to play well in his role. A combination of consistent shotmaking and tantalizing defense from Grimes will help the Knicks as they seek ways to win with a difficult schedule ahead.
For the Knicks to get the win on the road, it’s going to require a full team effort on defense and most importantly, finishing out possessions with a rebound. Securing rebounds will be extremely important tonight and in the coming weeks, as second-chance points allowed is becoming a consistent pattern in each of the Knicks’ losses over the last couple of weeks. Expect this matchup to be a gritty one, similar to their last outing as both teams are still aggressively fighting for playoff positioning.