10 Things: Scottie Barnes' versatility shines in Raptors' gritty win vs. Knicks

Gary Trent Jr. scored 24 points as the Toronto Raptors defeated the New York Knicks 90-87.

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 90-87 win over the New York Knicks.

One -- That was hard to watch but at least the Raptors came through with the win. It was a shocking display on both teams in terms of how much they each struggled to generate offence, and the final result was appropriately decided on a missed three from Julius Randle which was eerily similar to the ending of the loss to OKC where Mike Muscala was the recipient of a kickout after the Raptors collapsed the paint. At the very least, it was a strong showing by the Raptors on the defensive end as they kept a tight lid on the Knicks from start to finish.

Two -- Scottie Barnes was the most impressive player on the floor. What's so unique about his game is his versatility. He can play any role and any position that the Raptors ask of him, and tonight it happened to be as a big man making rotations to help at the rim while contested for loose balls. On both fronts he succeeded, with Barnes collecting two blocks, two steals, and 15 rebounds, while also shooting a robust 6-for-12 from the field. The Raptors' main challenge in this game was shutting off the paint, and Barnes was a key figure in forcing misses at the basket and finishing off plays with his rebounding. Barnes also chipped in with a drive over Derrick Rose in a late shot-clock scenario. The only thing you want more of is for Barnes to feel that same urgency and permission to take over more often. On a night where his veterans didn't have it, Barnes should have taken more than 12 shots.

Three -- Fred VanVleet isn't in the business of heaving too much praise on rookies, but he was right on the money on Barnes. He said that "there's nothing (Barnes) can't do on the court," which is the most exciting thing about Barnes' development in the months and years ahead. There's always something in each game that wows you. Today, it was a pass from Barnes where he was crushed under the rim by a wall of Knicks, yet he was able to throw a bullet of a wraparound pass through three defenders to find VanVleet open for three on the opposite wing. You can train all your life to play basketball at the highest level and still not have the creativity, the dexterity, and the length to make the play that Barnes did casually as a rookie.

Four -- Gary Trent Jr.'s importance is so clear in games like this. In games where the Raptors are unable to generate offence, when his teammates are firing blanks from the field, and you just need someone who can make difficult shots and do so with the utmost confidence, that's where Trent Jr. is most needed. He looked like the only player in the gym capable of making shots, and he delivered a game-high 24 points. For as much praise as he's rightfully drawn over his improved defence this season, it's still his scoring that matters most on this team. Trent Jr. nailed an incredibly difficult baseline fadeaway with a hand right in his face, and he knocked down the go-ahead triple after Barnes and Pascal Siakam won two key offensive rebounds on the same play. Trent Jr. is not the first or second option on this team, yet he is capable of sliding into the role when he needs to.

Five -- This was another referendum on how the Raptors should operate at the end of games. In the loss to OKC, VanVleet got the ball, forced a switch through Siakam's screen, drove it hard but was ultimately thwarted in the lane. This time, it was Siakam's turn to operate with VanVleet screening to create the switch, but he failed to get into the lane and had to settle for a pull-up jumper over Derrick Rose that rimmed out. Earlier in the year, it was OG Anunoby who had the first crack at a game-winner, so who's left? Trent Jr. deserves a look if only because he routinely makes tough shots and is adept at creating space for his mid-range jumper. Or perhaps Barnes gets a chance in his young career to decide a game. In all likelihood, though, there is no correct answer because the Raptors just don't have that one closer they can always turn to, which is something they have lacked ever since Kawhi Leonard ditched the title team to not contend in Los Angeles.

Six -- Siakam couldn't hit a jumper whatsoever even though he was consistently getting clean looks. Siakam had been in a good rhythm with his shot ever since returning, and he was even sharp pre-game, but it just wasn't dropping for him. He used the same moves from the same spots that he hit from in recent performances against Washington, Milwaukee, and OKC, yet everything was spilling out. The more he missed, the more the Knicks sagged into the lane to protect against his drives. To Siakam's credit, he was a monster on defence which has improved sharply of late compared to when he first returned, and Siakam was very energetic in getting ahead of the defence to get himself dunks and free throws in transition. In all likelihood, it was just an off night, just like his no-luck showing in Utah. Two off nights in 14 games back is hardly something to stress over.

Seven -- Nick Nurse made two pivotal moves to decide this game. The first and more important adjustment was a shift into zone defence. The Raptors had a 30-10 lead to start the game, but the Knicks bench thoroughly dominated their counterparts, with Rose getting into the lane at will and Randle drawing double teams, and the game was quickly even at 39-39 with New York holding all the momentum. It was at that moment when Nurse called timeout and came back with a zone defence that the Knicks failed to crack for the remainder of the game. There were no more open lanes for Rose to attack off a high screen, and Randle saw more bodies around him which made it harder for him to get to his spots or for him to freely kick it to whoever was open. Nurse returned to the same coverage whenever the Knicks threatened in the second half. The Raptors haven't been as willing to innovate defensively this season, which is odd for a Nurse-led squad, but it likely speaks to the inexperience of his players rather than any changes in Nurse's philosophies.

Eight -- Nurse's other key adjustment was to scrap the dreaded Siakam with bench lineups that just don't work. That lineup lost the lead in the second quarter, and it was scheduled to return for a key stretch at the top of the fourth, except Nurse changed the approach entirely. The issue with the Siakam with bench lineups is that there isn't enough shooting for him to operate, nor is there anyone for him to kick it to, and so Nurse went with an entirely different approach with Malachi Flynn subbing in for Dalano Banton, and Trent Jr. in place of Siakam as the first option with the second unit. This look didn't produce better offence either, save for Trent Jr.'s ability to hit a tough shot here or there, but at least the flow of the offence was better. Each play wasn't just a clearout for Siakam in the middle, with two help defenders pinching in at the edges of the paint.

Nine -- But there are no more excuses for the second unit. Even if some of the players would be third stringers who wouldn't ordinarily be in the rotation, there is no excuse for professional basketball players to not make wide open shots. Flynn worked two pick-and-pops with Yuta Watanabe screening for him, and both times Watanabe missed wide-open threes at the top of the floor in a tight game to start the fourth. Svi Mykhailiuk pump faked overeager Knicks defenders, rose up for an open look, but he missed the shot. Flynn saw momentary daylight off a high screen and pulled up for three, and he also bricked it. These guys won't get better shots than these, nor are they asked to do anything beyond that, but it's ultimately on them to take these opportunities. The Raptors got outscored 39-10 off the bench tonight, which is a joke except it's an old one that is true of practically every game the Raptors have played this season.

Ten -- The Raptors as an organization were more careful with their mask policy in this game. The coaching staff had their masks on while training the players for warmups, while Nurse had his mask on in both the pre and post-game interviews. The news of president Masai Ujiri contracting COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated and also having a booster shot has served as a reminder that you cannot be too careful during a pandemic, and that the costs to getting sick can mean derailing the season as it did last year. It's human nature to grow comfortable in a situation and become less mindful or diligent, but staying healthy this year could mean the difference between a return to the playoffs or another trip to the lottery.

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