NEW YORK — There is always some team that based on its late-season surge might have been a dangerous playoff underdog, if only it had qualified.
This year’s version could be the Toronto Raptors, whose best basketball in a couple of years is probably a case of too little, too late.
Andrea Bargnani scored 23 points, Chris Bosh had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Raptors extended their winning streak to six with a 102-95 victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday.
Shawn Marion added 12 points and 13 boards for the Raptors, who stayed alive for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Toronto would have been eliminated with a loss and a victory by Chicago.
“We keep playing. We don’t pay attention to the standings,” Bosh said. “We just try to win the next game and they say we’re not eliminated yet, so until that day we have to prepare the right way for every game.”
Instead, the Raptors eliminated the Knicks, who haven’t made the post-season since 2004. First-year coach Mike D’Antoni repeatedly said he thought New York could end its drought this season.
“I don’t know, I was pretty disappointed that we didn’t do it to be honest with you,” D’Antoni said. “I just thought too many games would come down to where we could take control of it, 15 or 16 games less than five points, and we just never came up with the big play or the big stops and tonight was just another night.”
Jose Calderon scored 15 points for Toronto, on its longest winning streak since its Atlantic Division championship team won six in a row in April 2007. The Raptors broke open a tight game by holding the Knicks to two field goals in the first six-plus minutes of the fourth quarter, then held on behind their excellent foul shooting.
Widely expected to be a playoff team this season, the Raptors got off to a dismal start, costing coach Sam Mitchell his job when the Bosh-Jermaine O’Neal inside tandem struggled. Marion has been a better fit since the Raptors acquired him from Miami for O’Neal, with Bargnani moving to the middle.
“There’s nothing you can do about yesterday and times past,” Toronto coach Jay Triano said. “I mean we’ve been frustrated throughout the year, but we’re not right now. We’ve just got to keep playing and try to win as many games as we can.”
Al Harrington and Chris Duhon each scored 22 points for the Knicks, who tumbled out of playoff contention with a disappointing finish to D’Antoni’s first season. New York has lost four straight and 10 of its last 11 games.
“Once you get a feel of being in the playoffs and playing in the playoff games, that’s a feeling that you strive to continue to have,” said Duhon, who played in the post-season with Chicago. “I just think these guys deserve it. They need to deserve to understand the different level. You’ve got to play a different way, so the intensity is higher. It’s a lot of fun playing in the playoffs.”
The teams meet again Sunday night to complete a home-and-home series.
Quentin Richardson made the first basket of the fourth quarter to bring New York within two points, but Toronto scored nine straight to open an 86-75 lead on Bosh’s jumper with 8:52 to play. A bucket by Chris Wilcox ended the Knicks’ drought of about 3 1/2 minutes before consecutive field goals by Joey Graham and Jason Kapono stretched the lead to 90-77.
New York cut it to four, but Marion’s follow and a three-point play by Anthony Parker restored a comfortable cushion at 99-90 with 1:41 left. Toronto then hit its free throws, finishing 17-of-20 from the line.
The Knicks scored the last six points of the first quarter, taking a 30-23 lead on Wilson Chandler’s tip-in as time expired. New York pushed the lead to 12 early in the second, but Toronto battled back to tie it late in the period before the Knicks took a 50-48 edge into halftime.