The Toronto Raptors suffered a harsh blow on Monday, losing starting point guard Kyle Lowry to right wrist surgery for at least the next month. In the big picture, there’s nothing that can make up for the loss of an All-Star in the backcourt; in the micro view, though, having another All-Star guard continue to step up sure does help, though.
For the fourth straight game, the Raptors fell behind by double-digits on Monday night to a New York Knicks team that had also lost a point guard earlier in the day, although under decidedly different circumstances. (Shortly after the news of Brandon Jennings’ release broke, the Knicks also sent injured and ineffective center Joakim Noah off to go under the knife.) Luckily for the dinosaurs, the Knicks have had trouble hanging onto leads all season long, and some stingy defense — they limited New York to just 14 points on 25 percent shooting in the third quarter — allowed the Raptors to claw back into the contest and set the stage for a tight finish down the stretch.
The two teams traded blows in a fourth quarter that featured eight lead changes and eight ties, and came down to the final half-minute. After a tough drive and bucket by Derrick Rose to tie the game at 88, the Raptors came out of a timeout with a sharp play to get DeMar DeRozan headed downhill off a screen for a driving layup that put Toronto up 90-88 with 30 seconds left. On the ensuing Knicks possession, star Carmelo Anthony missed a tough 17-footer over the defense of new Raptors pitbull P.J. Tucker, but a hustling Lance Thomas tipped the offense rebound back to Melo, who fed Courtney Lee for a right-wing 3-pointer that put the Knicks back on top, 91-90, with 10 ticks remaining.
By going so quickly on their previous trip, though, the Raptors had guaranteed they’d get one more look at the basket before the buzzer. As he has so often this season, and especially of late with Lowry sidelined, DeRozan made sure he made it count:
The Raptors inbounded the ball to Cory Joseph and had DeRozan run from the half-court line toward the point guard for a dribble-handoff, triggering a switch that put the 6-foot-3 Rose on the 6-foot-7 DeRozan above the 3-point arc. The shooting guard sized up his mark, took one dribble to his left, backed Rose to the left elbow, then faked toward the middle of the floor and faded away, uncorking a jumper that Rose’s attempted contest couldn’t bother … and that splashed softly through the net, putting Toronto up 92-91 with 1.9 seconds remaining.
DeRozan sure seemed to enjoy that …
— NBA (@NBA) February 28, 2017
… perhaps because he’d called his shot during an interaction with a courtside fan moments earlier:
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) February 28, 2017
The Knicks did have a chance to answer, with inbounder Thomas finding Anthony wide-open behind the 3-point line — so open, in fact, that the All-Star forward had the time and space to take a dribble and a step toward the arc and rise in rhythm without a Raptor in the area, in pursuit of his second straight game-winning bucket at Madison Square Garden …
… but this time, the ball banked off the glass and rimmed out, leaving the MSG faithful beside themselves, Anthony angry enough to fling his headband in disgust, and the Knicks on the receiving end of a 92-91 defeat.
Playing without starting power forward Kristaps Porzingis, who missed two games since spraining his ankle in last week’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Knicks lost for the seventh time in nine games to fall to 24-36, 4 1/2 games out back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with just 22 games remaining. New York is now 10-12 in games in which the score has been within three points in the final 30 seconds this season, and 3-11 in games in which they’ve been somewhere between tied and down by three in the last 10 seconds.
At this point, at least the Knicks’ odds of landing a top-three pick in the 2017 NBA draft lottery improve more and more with each crushing defeat:
When the Knicks lose a heartbreaker for the 20th time this season but it's for the best pic.twitter.com/HaK70uHr1n
— Knicks Memes (@KnicksMemes) February 28, 2017
Making this one especially crushing: the Knicks had a foul to give on their final defensive possession, meaning Rose could have hacked DeRozan as soon as they got matched up on the switch and forced Toronto to re-inbound the ball with about 2.5 seconds left, rather than go one-on-one in a mismatch and get to his sweet spot.
After the game, New York coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters he and his staff had made it clear to the Knicks’ players that they had a foul to give on that possession, and instructed them on the situation in which to use it:
There’s a novel in the space between the question about the Knicks not using their foul to give on DeRozan’s winner + Hornacek’s answer. pic.twitter.com/Qk6ACliIFx
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) February 28, 2017
… but either that message wasn’t communicated clearly enough, or Rose just didn’t get the memo:
Derrick Rose: 'I think it was great D' on Derozan. asked about the foul to give,,'i dont know, I don't know what to say about that '
— Yaron Weitzman (@YaronWeitzman) February 28, 2017
Rose on the DeRozan game-winner: "Great D, Better O."
— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) February 28, 2017
DeRozan mustered plenty of great O for the Raps on Monday, scoring a game-high 37 points on 13-for-25 shooting (10-for-13 from the free-throw line) to go with eight rebounds, two assists and a steal in a commanding 37-plus minutes of work:
DeRozan scored 14 of his 37 in the final 7:06 of regulation, including the Raptors’ last 12 overall. With non-DeRozan Raptors combining to shoot just 20-for-53 (37.7 percent) from the field on Monday, and Toronto hitting only seven of 26 3-point attempts, Dwane Casey’s club desperately needed every last DeRozan trip to the free-throw line and how-the-hell-did-that-go-in? midrange jumper taken with a defender draped all over … and he delivered.
He’s been doing that a lot since the All-Star break:
DeMar DeRozan: 113 points, 69 field-goal attempts since the all-star break.
— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) February 28, 2017
Sometimes, heroball works
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) February 28, 2017
… and, as a result, the Raptors have won four straight games in which they’ve trailed by double figures to improve to 36-24, moving a half-game ahead of the idle Washington Wizards into third place in the Eastern Conference, and drawing within two games of the Boston Celtics, who got blown out by the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden.
“A sense of urgency kicked in,” DeRozan told reporters after the game. “You never want to lose. When you get down a lot like that, you want to pick it up and fight a lot harder. It’s a bad thing to get down that much, but it just shows you the fight we have.”
And that, even facing big deficits without leader Lowry, the Raptors aren’t out of the fight so long as they can grind out stops and get the ball in the hands of one of the league’s premier knockout artists.
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