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Lewenberg: Knicks dowse Raptors' comeback bid

Josh Lewenberg
3/23/2013 3:03:09 AM
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TORONTO - Fuelled by career night from Alan Anderson, the Raptors nearly overcame a lackluster first half and the loss of their leading scorer.

"We've got to do it for two halves, no matter who's on the court," Dwane Casey reiterated after his team fought back from a 13-points halftime deficit but came up short, 99-94 to the New York Knicks (41-26) at the Air Canada Centre Friday.

Anderson started the second half in place of Rudy Gay, who aggravated a reoccurring back injury in the second quarter, and proceeded to score 20 of his career-high 35 points in the third frame as the Raptors (26-43) trimmed their deficit to as little as two.

In the end, Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks' sharpshooters proved too much to overcome as New York took the first game of a weekend home-and-home series with Toronto.

"He scores in so many different ways," Anderson said of Anthony. "We tried to throw as many different looks at him as we could but Melo's going to be Melo and he knocked down some pretty tough shots."

Anthony poured in 37 for the Knicks, who shot 10-of-22 from three-point range as a team.

Gay headed straight for the locker room late in the first half and remained for the rest of the game, receiving treatment on his ailing back. "I saw it when it happened," Casey said. "He stepped and got pushed at the same time and tweaked it."

Fast Breaking Points

- Why you match-up

For the third time this season, Casey opted to start Landry Fields against his former team in an attempt to match-up with Anthony and the small Knicks' unit that was even smaller on Friday without the injured Tyson Chandler. In an ideal scenario, every coach should be confident enough with his group to force the opposition's hand in regards to match-ups however that's simply not the case for a young team well below .500. In this instance, the Raptors frontcourt rotation -- as it is usually pieced together -- would have been over its head against a superior Knicks offence that is very good at what it does best.

As Anthony keeps the defence occupied New York's many shooters spread the floor well, swing the ball and generate open looks, something they did to perfection on Friday, especially in the first half. This style of basketball won't be effective every night but when their shooters are locked in they're exceptionally difficult to defend while you're also focused on the many ways in which Anthony can beat you.

"I've guarded everybody so I've seen everything," Anderson boasted, discussing his match-up with Anthony. "He's going to make tough shots, I'm just there to make the shots tough."

On this night the adjustment did not pay off. Although Fields had done an admirable -- at times impressive -- job on Anthony in the first two meetings, there was no answer for him this time around. Anderson challenged him aggressively down the stretch but the results were similar. Additionally, Jonas Valanciunas -- who continues to experience growing pains defensively as his minutes increase -- had a tough time keeping up with the smaller and more experienced Kenyon Martin (19 points, 11 rebounds).

The decision to adapt to the strengths of the opposition may not be a popular one but unless you're good and experienced enough to impose your will, it's probably the wise one. 

The Stat: The Knicks outscored Toronto by 10 in the second quarter, shooting 53 per cent from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point range while the Raptors were held to 25 per cent on 2-of-8 from long distance.

- Anderson and the comeback

We've seen this from him before. Anderson has worked hard on his jumper and has become a very good shooter. He's also a streaky shooter, evident from the many peaks and valleys he's experienced offensively this season. On Friday, he was as locked in as ever. Most of the damage came in the third quarter, where he literally could not miss, shooting a perfect 6-for-6 from the field (including 3-of-3 from long range).

The Raptors offence, which was on life support in the first half, came to life around Anderson. Kyle Lowry -- 9 points, 10 assists -- hit a couple big threes in the third quarter and DeMar DeRozan came to life, scoring half of his 18 in the final period. Toronto nearly clawed all the way back, narrowing the Knicks lead to two midway through the fourth before Anthony and Martin silenced the run with timely shots and big offensive rebounds.

In the end the Knicks spoiled Anderson's career night. "It feels real good personally," he said about his performance after the loss. "But when you can't get the win you wish you did a little more."

So far this season, Anderson has scored 20 or more points against some impressive company that includes the Knicks (twice), Heat, Thunder, Bulls, Rockets and Bucks (as well as the Kings). Sure, the Raptors are 2-7 in those games but when you consider their overall record and the fact that the list above consists of some elite teams, that's probably to be expected.

"He's a veteran, he's been through the wars [and] nothing intimidates him," Casey said of Anderson. "He's one of our older, elder statesmen with experience and that shows in those situations. Nothing excites him, he's seen every defence. Nobody's going to intimidate him. He's not going to get overly frustrated and let something take him out of the game. That's how he plays [and] in this league that's what wins."

When his jumper's not falling, Anderson tends to struggle with shot selection often forcing his game and trying to do too much at the expense of the offence. That is the only thing that could potentially hold him back from being a significant part of somebody's rotation next season and in the future. With that said, his energy, defensive intensity, work ethic and leadership abilities -- on and off the floor -- have been consistently strong all year. Those intangibles, on top of the big games he's put up against potential future employers this year, should earn him a substantial raise in the offseason. 

Based on salary cap restrictions and Toronto's surplus of wing players, his next chapter will likely be written elsewhere. However, when you consider what was expected of him this season and the fact that he didn't sign his first 10-day contract with team until Mar. 26 of last year, it's safe to say he has gone above and beyond for the Raptors.

Notables and Quotables

Gay did not travel with the team to New York and won't play in Saturday's rematch against the Knicks. He'll remain in Toronto to receive treatment on his sore back and will be considered day-to-day. ... Chandler missed his fifth straight game with a strained neck. The Knicks were also without Amar'e Stoudemire (knee), Kurt Thomas (foot) and Rasheed Wallace (foot). ... Toronto has lost three straight and 10 of its last 13 games. ... The Raptors failed to record 20 assists (19) for the fifth consecutive contest. ... With 10 points and seven boards, Jonas Valanciunas has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games and has grabbed six or more rebounds in seven straight contests. Former Raptors centre Marcus Camby celebrated his 39th birthday on Friday (he was traded from Toronto as a 24-year-old) and guard Jason Kidd turns 40 on Saturday.

"If we approach[ed] the first half the way we did the second half and not tip-toe our way through, it's a different game."

-- Casey

"We were competing but we just weren't getting anything done. We weren't getting stops, we were missing wide open looks."

-- Casey on the first half

"He has an offensive mind-set. He has a great shot, he comes in and gives us a great lift and he's been doing that all season long."

-- Amir Johnson on Anderson

Up Next

In the second game of a home-and-home set, the Raptors travel to Madison Square Garden for a rematch with the Knicks on Saturday.

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