Despite fantastic regrouped offense following a dismal first quarter, the Knicks couldn’t shake the Raptors as RJ Barrett returned home.

The New York Knicks (12-14) were unable to bridge the gap in the closing stages as they fell to the Toronto Raptors (12-14) on a score of 90-87 to close out the three-game road trip.

New York was again lackadaisical coming out of the blocks as they fell behind by double digits within the first five minutes and faced a 20-point deficit 10 minutes into the tilt.

The Knicks’ defense failed to close out on Toronto’s shooters as the Raptors fired away uncontested, starting out 5-for-9 from deep while new starting center Nerlens Noel wasn’t a deterrent, as Toronto had their way in the interior getting to the line nine times as a result.

New York was in a stupor throughout the first period, scoring 14 points on 5-for-21 shooting through the first frame. Evan Fournier looked to have gotten over his bad steak, canning a pair of three-pointers on four tries, while RJ Barrett was the only other starter to get on the books in the opening.

The Knicks were energized in the second period by the usual spark plug: the second unit. Obi Toppin was New York’s most impactful player by a boulevard, scoring 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting and 4-for-4 from the charity stripe, including a pair of signature two-handed stuffs.

Toppin, alongside Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose, played their usual up-tempo brand of basketball which opened up New York’s offense as they freely moved the ball for seven assists on 10 second-quarter field goals. The bench was again the starters’ savior, running-and-gunning their way back from 20 points down to draw even at 39 apiece late in the first half.

Mitchell Robinson steadied New York’s interior defense in his second-quarter stint while the Julius Randle and Toppin pairing found success again on the defensive end as the Knicks’ small-ball lineup showed switch-ability and looked cohesive as they held Toronto to 19 second-quarter points with only one three-point make in the period.

Turnovers were an issue for the Knicks, giving it away 10 times in the first half and it became costly nearing the main break. The Raptors closed out on an 11-3 run to end the half on the back of three consecutive Julius Randle turnovers while the usually level-headed Rose had three of his own in the opening 24 minutes.

The second half opened as the third quarter of boom as the ‘Bockers scored the first eight points to knot things up again at 50. The starting group looked somewhat rejuvenated, at least in comparison to the first six minutes of the game, getting over screens and forcing four Toronto turnovers.

Nerlens Noel continued to look below average on the defensive side of the ball. He failed to secure defensive rebounds and was being outrun and out-worked by Chris Boucher, who scored the Raptors’ first six points of the second half.

The Maple Mamba put his steel caps and hard hat on as Barrett went to work in the paint, forcing his way to the line, going 5-for-6 on freebies in the third frame while also weaving and achieving a beautiful off-hand euro-step layup.

It was a sloppy affair to begin the fourth quarter as New York committed two offensive fouls on two consecutive possessions and two fouls while boxing out defensively. Toppin was the only source of offense, hitting the Knicks only three field goals through the first six minutes and change of the quarter, including a corner three-ball and a set-play lob courtesy of Quickley.

Toppin had the best statistical game of his young career, logging 19 points on 6-for-14 shooting and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.

New York went small in the fourth quarter and again it stifled Toronto’s offense however some timely hooping from Fred VanVleet and rookie Scottie Barnes helped give Toronto a seven-point buffer.

Some big buckets from Randle, Barrett, and Rose saw New York regain the lead before the lack of size came back to bite New York as multiple offensive rebounds and multiple looks from downtown for the Raptors saw Gary Trent Jr., Toronto’s leading scorer on the night with 24, drain the go-ahead triple with 71 seconds to go.

New York had multiple looks to either tie or take the lead but failed to execute two baseline-out-of-bounds plays after a successful coach’s challenge, while Randle missed the potential game-winner from behind the arc after the Knicks elected not to take a timeout with 10 ticks on the clock.

Takeaways

We just must keep saying it until it happens. Tom Thibodeau needs to make more rotational changes, specifically the starting lineup. Despite relegating Kemba Walker to the end of the bench, the Knicks starters frequently did themselves a hole, a 20-point one in this case, which is then palmed off for the bench to fix. The bench outscored the starters again this evening.

The Knicks have developed bad habits, most notably on the defensive end, and they will not become a good basketball team (on a nightly basis) until they break them. At the worst of times, New York looks entirely disinterested defensively, which occurs often, and at the best of times they are a ruthless defensive unit, but it unfortunately only comes in spurts. The first and second quarters tonight exemplify this.

The Knicks need to adjust their offensive philosophy. They had 18 assists tonight, shy of their season’s average of 20.7 per game, which is 27th in the league. The periods where New York looked their best, in the second quarter and to begin the second half came, on the back of ball and constant player movement.

Free Obi Toppin. Go small.

Next up: The Knicks head home to face the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks.

 

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