The Knicks let another late lead slip away in their second grueling defeat this season to the Raptors, falling 123-121 in overtime at the Garden on Monday.
Despite leading 101-92 with 5:30 left to play in regulation, New York allowed Toronto to surge back with a 12-3 run, capped by five straight points from Fred VanVleet to tie it at 104 with 1:30 remaining and eventually force overtime, where they would go on to win.
It was another tough game against a physical Raptors team who certainly get up to play the Knicks this season.
Despite being just 20-24 on the season, Toronto has been a thorn in New York’s side. Just over a week ago, the Knicks blew a 15-point lead with three minutes left but held on to defeat the Raptors in Toronto, and earlier this year the Raptors ended the Knicks’ eight-game winning streak behind Pascal Siakam’s 52 points.
On Monday, New York held Siakam to just 20 points (although he did chip in nine assists and eight rebounds), but 33 points from Fred VanVleet (averaging 17.7 this year) and 26 from Scottie Barnes (averaging 15.1 this season) doomed New York in the end.
It was more of the same for the Knicks that led to the loss.
Too often the Knicks’ defense over-rotated, leaving shooters wide open. The Raptors hit just 13-of-44 from downtown on Monday or this game might not have even been close.
However, the over-rotation also left New York out of position on rebounds. Toronto may have only nabbed 14 offensive rebounds, but they seemed to always lead to crucial second-chance points, none bigger than when Barnes outmaneuvered Julius Randle for an offensive rebound off of a VanVleet miss with 12 seconds left and the Knicks up one.
Barnes would hit both free throws and give the Raptors a 109-108 lead.
It was in stark contrast to the Knicks’ free throw shooting at the end of the game, which has been an issue all season.
With New York trailing by one with 48.2 seconds left, Randle went to the line and made only one of two. Then, with 18.1 seconds left and the game tied, Jalen Brunson went to the line and also only made one of two.
The Knicks missed four of their last 11 free throws, and those points left on the table loomed large at the end of the regulation when the teams headed to overtime tied at 110.
As we’ve discussed many times before, New York needs to look no further than head coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotations to see why they are struggling to close out games.
Despite this being the second game of a back-to-back, all of Randle, Brunson, Mitchell Robinson, and RJ Barrett played over 40 minutes. Before the game, Thibodeau even mentioned that Barrett’s conditioning was not all the way back after missing two weeks with a finger injury.
Yet, Barrett still led the team with 49 minutes played.
While he also led the Knicks in scoring with 32 points, he was 10-of-23 from the field, only 2-of-9 from beyond the arc, and was too often a step slow on defense.
In fact, a few of the Knicks were a step too slow on defense late in the game, which had to do with the minutes they were asked to play and also the size of the Raptors. Toronto plays a small lineup often; yet, New York chose to keep Robinson in the game rather than going small and playing both Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley, their two best defenders.
The Knicks were also flustered by the Raptors’ zone, which has become another troubling trend this season.
When Toronto went into a zone, the Knicks hoisted up too many bad threes or tried to force the issue in the paint, attacking the lane without a clear plan and getting caught in no-man’s land, which led to turnovers and contested shots.
While Randle double-doubled with 21 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists, he was just 7-of-20 from the field and 1-of-6 from deep, often showcasing poor shot selection against Toronto’s stifling defense.
At the end of the day, New York should have pulled this one out. Yes, this was one of the worst officiated games of the season, something that Thibodeau commented on after the game, mentioning that it was “hard to tell what a foul was,” but this team still needs better situational awareness.
From its players and its coach.
Minutes need to be altered in the second game of a back-to-back. The team needs to learn how to attack a zone defense. Late-game free throws need to be made.
These are easily adjustable fixes. This is not a Knicks team that is going to fall out of contention, but they need to stop making things harder on themselves because the margin for error is already too small to begin with.