If it wasn’t Pascal Siakam it was OG Anunoby. Or Lucas Nogueira or even on one occasion C.J. Miles. Clawing. Reaching. Swatting. Kyle Lowry had his head on Kristaps Porzingis’ chin at the top of the arc, or at least it seemed that way, and he just pushed the ball away. He got all ball … but was whistled for the foul.
It was one of the few times Friday night that Porzingis found any joy. Scoreless through the first quarter, on the bench for the first five minutes of the second, Porzingis was effectively taken out of the game and so were the New York Knicks as the Toronto Raptors rolled to a 107-84 win at the Air Canada Centre.
The NBA is a better place when the Knicks are relevant, so it’s been a better place this season. There is a signature to them: lots of points from Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr.; the ability to climb back into games with second-half runs. The first two things did not happen – Porzingis had 13 points on 3-of-13; Hardaway the same on 5-for-11. The run came, as the Knicks cut a Raptors lead to 10 with 8:37 remaining. But Miles hit a three-pointer 30 seconds later and that was that. It was the Raptors’ eighth consecutive win over the Knicks, holding the Knicks to season lows in points and field-goal percentage.
Porzingis’ output was half his season average and was just one point shy of his season low of 12, scored in the third game of the season against the Boston Celtics. Siakam, who is flourishing since stepping in for the injured Norman Powell, hit double digits in points for the fifth time this season, something he accomplished four times in 55 games in 2016-17. But it was the shackling of Porzingis that really stood out.
“He’s a really good player, so you have to do the best you can to crowd him (and) make him uncomfortable,” Siakam said. “At the end of the day he’s going to make some shots and do some things, because he’s such a great competitor. So all you can do is make things as difficult on him as possible.”
“They always step up to the plate, no matter who it’s against,” said DeMar DeRozan, who shared the Raptors’ team-high for points with Lowry at 22. “Last game, to go against (the New Orleans Pelicans) DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, and now to go against Porzingis? Those guys always figure out a way to make it tough.”
Porzingis said the Raptors’ approach was no surprise, but admitted there was “a lot to look at in this game film.”
“From the first game, teams have been physical with me,” he said. “It’s just a matter of me not forcing things and getting easier stuff early on and not trying to go one-on-one and then create something for myself.”
Miles had 14 points off the bench and shouldered some of the defensive load, blocking two shots and snagging three defensive boards. Anunoby had 11 points in 29 minutes and was a team-high plus-25. A signal of how much confidence that their teammates have in the second unit – and Siakam and Anunoby, who both started – was that DeRozan and Lowry combined for 17 assists. And not always to each other. As head coach Dwane Casey noted, a “level of confidence” is being created with players who might otherwise be considered ancillary parts of the team.
Playing defence comes easy, Siakam said. “My energy and the things I have that help us defensively … they don’t need teaching. I can do those things off the bat. Offensively, the way we play there’s a lot of flow and for me that means just running and moving and cutting. I mean, it’s not like they’re running plays for me so I just have to find my way into the offensive flow. Most of the time, it means just running straight to the rim.”
The Knicks have had a bit of a post-Carmelo Anthony renaissance, developing a bit of an edge – witness Enes Kanter’s verbal jabs at LeBron James on Monday. Wednesday, the Knicks overcame a 12-point deficit for a 106-101 win over the Utah Jazz, marking the fifth time this season they’d overcome a double-digit deficit, tied with the Detroit Pistons for the most in the NBA. On Nov. 5 and 7 the Knicks won consecutive games in which they trailed by double digits entering the fourth quarter for the first time in the shot clock era.
That wasn’t going to happen Friday, not with Porzingis effectively taken out of the equation.
“There’s a lot for us to look at in the game film,” Porzingis said.
When he does, he’s going to see a whole lot of Siakam in the frame.