The last time the Knicks ventured across the border into Toronto, RJ Barrett had about 1,000 guests for whom he had been given tickets and infiltrated the Scotiabank Arena. On Sunday afternoon, there was a spectator limit of 1,000 for the entire arena, with the Raptors limiting it to just a handful of friends and family.
It was not the number of fans that worried Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks coach focused instead on the number of players he had available. The Knicks arrived and were missing a trio of starters, three of their centers and their primary playmakers, as the NBA’s health and safety protocols along with cumbersome injuries reduced the team to a skeletal team.
Blaming the absence of players or fans, however, would not do justice to what the Knicks laid out on the floor, which was hardly the kind of effort that would appease the coach as they were beaten solidly by the Raptors, 120-105.
The loss dropped the Knicks behind Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings as they fell to 17-20 and into an 11th place finish. This was a fight from start to finish as the Knicks needed to perform their best with Julius Randle, Kemba Walker and Mitchell Robinson among the absent pieces and were instead sloppy and challenged by Toronto.
The loss was the second in a row for the Knicks since they lost Randle to health and safety records, and in both games, his absence may have shown his value to the team more than anything else he has done since playing this season. Although he has not performed up to the level he did last season, without him, the Knicks have looked lost offensively and the defense was abysmal.
The Knicks had to play small without Randle, Robinson and Nerlen’s Noel, but the hope that it would speed up their game came to naught as the Raptors, who also played small, ran past them and through them.
The Raptors hit their first five shots before finally missing, and just minutes inside they had built up a double-digit lead. The Knicks briefly closed the distance to just three at the end of the first quarter, but Toronto started the second quarter with six straight points, leading to a couple of timeouts from Thibodeau in the first 2:55. He could not slow down the attack through as the Knicks made nine turnovers in the second quarter while conceding just five field goals.
When the second half began, Thibodeau dropped the experiment of starting rookie Miles McBride on point guard – leaving him in favor of Alec Burks less than five minutes into the match, starting Burks in the third quarter. But just 31 seconds into the third, the Burks got their fourth foul, and the Knicks turned on Immanuel Quickley. Nothing stopped Toronto, however, as the lead stretched to as many as 24 in the quarter.
McBride, Burks and Quickley all took turns, but no one could stop Fred VanVleet, who brought in 35 points while sitting out in the fourth quarter. VanVleet scored 19 of those points in the Raptors’ 40-point third quarter.
The Raptors had also played shorthanded, but returned intact with their top eight rotation players available for the first time all season.
The Knicks got 19 points from Barrett, but he only had six in the first half when the game slipped away. Toppin also played better than in his starting debut on Friday, finishing with 19 points, matching his career-high in Toronto, just before he was placed in the COVID-19 protocols, and a career-high six assists.
Notes and quotes: Kemba Walker sat his second game in a row with a sore left knee, which had made him a late itch Friday. Thibodeau did not think it was related to playing back-to-back games earlier on the roadtrip. “I do not think so … it was something that happened in the warm-up line.”