With Monday night’s game coming on the 75th anniversary of the first game played in the NBA — between the Knicks and the Toronto Huskies in what officially was the BAA back then — and serving as a rematch of the combatants, there already was a connection between the Toronto Raptors and the Knicks.
And as the game began the Knicks seemed intent on showing just how far they — and the NBA — had come, pouring in three-point field goals and throwing down dunks to the delight of the crowd at Madison Square Garden, a far cry from the 68-66 kickoff to the league in 1946. But by the fourth quarter Knicks fans might have been wondering, where have you gone, Ossie Schectman?
What the Knicks may have had in their first game in history and certainly have had since Tom Thibodeau took over as head coach was a hard-working mentality. But on this night, the Knicks admitted the truth, that they were outworked as a shorthanded Raptors squad took a 113-104 decision over the Knicks.
“I think they just played harder than us, honestly,” RJ Barrett said. “They played harder than us. In the NBA, most of the time, the harder playing team is going to win.”
But just as they have done in previous outings against lesser opponents — and the Raptors only qualified to that description because they were without Pascal Siakam and impressive rookie Scottie Barnes — the Knicks played down to the level of the opposition. The two worst games by the team in the early going this season have been against Orlando at Madison Square Garden, their first loss, and a narrow win over a shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans squad Saturday.
“We lost the lead, got back on our heels, they were the aggressors,” Thibodeau said. “That’s basically the story of the game.
“It was really the middle of the second quarter, that’s where the game turned. So we got back on our heels, we turned the ball over, we gave them fast breaks, then we gave them hope. Third quarter, we got drilled.”
An early 15-point lead disappeared as the Raptors nearly matched the output of the Toronto Huskies entire game in a 12-minute span as this game turned. The Knicks came out on fire, hitting 8 of 13 from beyond the arc in the first quarter. And no one was hotter than Julius Randle, who had 18 points while hitting 5 of 6 from the floor, including 4 of 5 from three. The Knicks held an eight-point advantage and stretched it to as many as 15 points in the second quarter.
Randle would finish with just 22 points — scoring four points after that first quarter on 2-for-8 shooting. Barrett carried the load again, this time finishing with 27 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the floor. OG Anunoby was all over the place defensively and poured in 36 points for Toronto.
In the second quarter, Randle returned with just over six minutes left and was 0-for-3 shooting with two turnovers, dribbling into corners as Anunoby, one of the league’s better defenders, clung tightly to his every move.
Asked what Toronto had changed up defensively after the first quarter, Randle said, “Nothing. They didn’t do a thing.”
“Obviously in the first half we did some good things,” Thibodeau said. “Then we got away from that and that’s where you have to have the discipline to do what you’re supposed to do. And you have to read the game, if we’re driving into traffic. We felt like we were getting hit. Those calls weren’t being made and that’s fine. That’s part of the game. But you can’t just continue to do the same thing.”
It continued early in the second half as Randle double-dribbled, turning the ball over and the Raptors tied the score at 57. They then took their first lead since the opening minutes. The damage continued to pile on as the Raptors turned a 50-35 deficit with 3:56 remaining in the second quarter into an 85-74 lead with 3:37 left in the third — a 50-point outburst over just over a 12-minute span. On the night, Toronto had 21 fast-break points to just three for the Knicks, taking advantage of 20 New York turnovers.
Steve Popper covers the Knicks for Newsday. He has spent nearly three decades covering the Knicks and the NBA, along with just about every sports team in the New York metropolitan area.