The Knicks lived by the three, but ultimately died by the three in trying to overcome a large deficit in a 90-85 loss to the moribund Raptors.
Coming off a three-game West Coast trip in which they went 1-2 and lost Amar’e Stoudemire to an ankle injury in the second game of that swing, the Knicks entered the game shorthanded. It was certainly bad timing, especially with noted Knick-killer Andrea Bargnani on the docket, as there was no one on the Knicks’ roster who could check the former No. 1-overall pick. Bargnani scored 12 of his team-high 21 points as the Raptors turned a seven-point first-quarter deficit into an eight-point lead within the first three minutes of the second quarter.
Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni tried to downplay the absence of Stoudemire and later explained that the early hole was due to his team being tired.
“We’re going to feel his absence. You might be able to sneak by without him once or so, and Josh [Harrellson] played well that first game (14 points and 12 rebounds), but he’s a rookie and he’s going to have his ups and downs. Obviously we miss him, but that can’t be [the only reason],” D’Antoni said. “We forgot to play. I thought [in] the first half our energy was down and we didn’t play real hard. And then we got a little snakebitten with everyone missing shots and playing on our heels. We needed 48 minutes and obviously didn’t get it.”
The Knicks (2-3) played in spurts, which has been a main bugaboo so far this young season. Despite building an early seven-point lead, it was created on the strength of jump shots – particularly threes. Such a style of play wasn’t sustainable, as the Raptors (2-3) slowly mounted a comeback.
The Raptors held the Knicks to 28 percent shooting in the first half, including 5-of-19 on threes, and outscored New York 29-11 in the second quarter to mount a 17-point halftime lead. Clearly the Knicks looked as if they were demoralized by the swing in momentum, as the Raptors used a 20-5 second-quarter run to pull ahead.
D’Antoni said he would accept no excuses, but added he’s still confident this new-look squad will “figure it out.”
“Everyone is tired and that’s going to be the theme, but you just have to deal with it,” D’Antoni said. “We had a lot of good looks, but again you have to do it well for two halves and we didn’t do it.”
The third quarter had a different theme as the Knicks slowly cut into the Raps’ lead. Toney Douglas took control, netting 12 of his 22 points in the quarter. The key play during the Knicks’ 17-6 run was a Douglas four-point play at the 6:00 mark to cut the deficit to eight, 57-49. He hit another three two minutes later to cut the score to 59-54. But the Raptors closed out the quarter on an 8-4 run to end the third with a nine-point lead.
The sheer uphill struggle eventually caught up to the Knicks.
“It shouldn’t come to down to that,” D’Antoni said of the comeback attempt. “It should’ve come down to how we played the whole game. And if we did [play well] none of that would’ve mattered. We shouldn’t have put ourselves in that spot.”
Carmelo Anthony agreed, saying the fact that the Knicks came out uninspired wasn’t an excuse. He also refused to use fatigue as a crutch.
“We came out flat. There’s no need to cry about the schedule or cry about fatigue or the plane rides or anything like that,” Anthony said. “We knew coming into the season that it was going to be a brutal season and we accept that and move on. This was a game we should’ve won.”
The Knicks almost won on the strength of Anthony’s game-high 35 points. Anthony, who also added a team-high 11 rebounds, said the first-half malaise was unexplainable.
“The first half I don’t know what was wrong with us, no excuses though,” said Anthony. “The second half we did a better job offensively and defensively. Guys dug a deep hole and we tried hard to fight back. We took the same shots in the first half, but they just didn’t fall. But I’m not concerned with that right now. Our offense will come. We’ll get better. … On to the next.”
» $14-million man Tyson Chandler produced a quiet double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds to go with two steals, but he was mainly a non-factor. He has certainly not been the impact guy the Knicks thought he’d be right now.
»Journeymen Rasual Butler and Jamaal Magliore played a larger-than-expected role in the Raptors’ win. Butler notched 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Magliore snared 10 rebounds off the bench.
»Melo said as bad as he’s missed Stoudemire’s presence these past two games he doesn’t want his friend to hurry back: “I miss him a lot, but more importantly I want him back 100 percent and not 70-75 percent. It’s a short season, but at the same time it’s a long season so I don’t want him to risk anything.”
Melo might need some ice for his elbow and wrist after the amount of shots he got up. But he said afterwards that he never counts his attempts, especially when he’s in the flow of the game: “In the midst of a game I’m just trying to come back and stay aggressive. I didn’t know I took 35 shots until after the game and I wasn’t too concerned about taking 35 shots. I was just trying to do what I could to bring us back and win the basketball game.”
»D’Antoni said he’s well aware of the inordinate amount of threes that were jacked up, but said he doesn’t keep a running tally on them during the game. He simply shrugged and sighed when asked if there’s ever too much reliance on the 3-point shot: “I don’t have a number. Ideally I’d want to make them all. That [amount of threes] doesn’t have anything to do with anything.” Ideally, an NBA team shouldn’t be shooting almost as many threes (35) as twos (43).
»Harrellson didn’t do much (two points, five rebounds), especially coming off his career night in Sacramento, but he did make the team’s defensive play of the day when he blocked an Amir Johnson dunk attempt with 1:05 remaining. The hustle play led to an Anthony fastbreak layup with :59.9 remaining and brought the Knicks to within a point, 84-83, but that was as close as New York would get.
»The Knicks have a very winnable stretch in the next week as they face the Bobcats (1-3) twice, Wizards (0-4), Pistons (1-3) and Sixers (2-2).
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.