Toronto saw a better version of itself on Friday night in the New York Knicks, who handed the Raptors a 112 -108 loss, as the team continues to see its season slip away.
Along with getting outplayed by their point guard and power forward duo of Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, it was a consistent effort from the Knicks from start to finish that was able to weather off runs from the Raptors, as they tried to dig themselves out of hole after hole.
“We’re competing, just not well enough, not long enough in stretches to win in this league … It’s hard to keep having to make those pushes,” said the Raptors' Fred VanVleet post-game, who finished with a team-high 28 points.
“They outplayed us, they deserved to win.”
The Raptors were able to stage another late-game comeback, cutting a 16-point lead with just over three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, all the way down to two points with 42 seconds left in regulation. Unlike against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, the Raptors couldn’t pull off another miracle.
It marks the eleventh loss for the Raptors in their last 15 games, as they fall to a 16-23 record — their worst through 39 games since the 2012-13 season, more than a decade ago. It’s also the second straight loss as part of a six-game home stand for the Raptors, as the Knicks broke their 11-game losing streak in Scotiabank Arena.
Heading into the matchup, head coach Nick Nurse said there's "some urgency every night" at this point for his team. But how serious it's come to be would waiver for the Raptors on Friday, particularly in the beginning of the second and fourth quarters.
After the game, when asked if they were playing with a sense of urgency for long enough periods, VanVleet answered with a blunt "no."
The Knicks started the second frame with an 11-2 run to hold a 13-point lead, and opened the fourth quarter on a 8-0 run for an 11-point lead. These were especially crushing blows, considering the Raptors kept themselves in contention in the first quarter after a red-hot start from Randle, and then chipped their way back in the third quarter to come into the final frame just down 81-78.
“Those parts of the game weren’t good,” said Nurse post-game.
Coming into Friday’s matchup, Randle wasted no time finding his rhythm. Following an offensive rebound to start the first quarter, the Raptors left Randle open to hit a three-ball, which seemed to help the one-time All-Star find his groove.
It would be one of five three-point bombs in the opening frame for Randle — the others heavily contested, but it didn’t matter.
“It was just about being aggressive, open and letting the game come to me," said Randle post-game, as he continues to have arguably the best season of his career, with the Knicks holding the sixth seed in the East after their fourth straight win.
"I think it then spilled into everybody to get confidence to get this one on the road. It’s big for us.”
Randle finished the first quarter with 19 points, the third most he’s ever scored in a quarter in his nine-year career. Eventually, he’d finish with a game-high 32, to go along with 11 rebounds, marking his 22nd double-double of the season.
He outplayed the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam, who finished with 18 points on 4-14 shooting from the field, to go along with 13 rebounds and five assists. It’s quite the contrast compared to the Raptors’ last matchup against the Knicks in December, where Siakam scored a career-high 52 points in Madison Square Garden.
Friday’s statline comes after an 11-point performance for the Raptors’ star player against the Bucks on Wednesday. The 29 points now across two games marks the fewest points Siakam scored in a two-game stretch this season.
To go along with Randle's edge, the second part of the Knicks’ one-two punch in Brunson sealed the deal. In the fourth quarter, the point guard scored 10 points of his eventual 26 to stave off the Raptors, to go along with a game-high eight assists.
Neither team saw much contribution from their bench, both combining for 15 points, as it continues to be a sore spot for these Raptors.
The 8-0 run the Knicks had to start the fourth quarter came as the Raptors tried to give VanVleet some much needed rest, as they continue to struggle to find someone to fill his backup minutes. VanVleet ultimately finished the game with a team-high 10 plus/minus.
For the Knicks, they were helped with timely shots from Quentin Grimes (4-10 from three), and sixth-man Miles McBride, who hit two timely threes in the fourth quarter to grow the Knicks’ double-digit lead.
The Raptors again couldn’t contend with a blistering three-point performance from the opposing team, shooting 34.5 percent from distance, compared to the Knicks' 43.2 percent. Following the matchup, Toronto now holds the worst three-point percentage in the NBA (34.2).
Another consistent trend was the Raptors’ inability to contain a true big man, allowing the Knicks' Mitchell Robinson to secure 18 rebounds, with eight of those coming on the offensive glass, to go along with 10 points.
Mix in all these advantages for the Knicks, the Raptors’ inconsistent sense of urgency proved to be the dagger, resulting in a loss that keeps them in the 12th seed in the Eastern Conference — not even good enough for a play-in spot for a franchise three years removed from an NBA title.
These late-game surges may provide hope, but they’re also the result of the Raptors’ starters playing brutal minutes, with VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr. (who finished with his sixth straight 20-point game), Siakam and O.G. Anunoby all playing at least 39 minutes against the Knicks.
For the season, VanVleet, Siakam and Anunoby are all among the top four in the NBA in minutes per game. The Raptors’ point guard says he and Nurse have “fought” this season about his minutes, with the one-time All-Star still battling contact injuries from last season.
Despite that, VanVleet notes that all they may need is a “little spark” to help turn their season around, comments that come with the NBA’s Feb. 9 deadline approaching, and the future of this Raptors core continuing to be in question.
“I promise I'll take all the criticism and questions and concerns at the end of the season, but we got a long way to go,” said VanVleet. “I'm not giving up … As long as we got this group together, we got to go out there and fight and give it our all every night.”
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