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. It was 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.
"I think they just played harder than us, honestly," RJ Barrett said. "In the NBA, most of the time, the harder-playing team is going to win."
But just as they have in previous outings against lesser opponents — and the Raptors qualified for that description only 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 Knicks in the early going this season have been against Orlando at the Garden, their first loss, and a narrow win over a shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans squad on 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 just over 12 minutes.
The Knicks came out on fire, shooting 8-for-13 from beyond the arc in the first quarter. No one was hotter than Julius Randle, who scored 18 points and shot 5-for-6 from the floor, including 4-for-5 from three-point range.
But Randle finished with 22 points, scoring four points after that first quarter on 2-for-8 shooting. He added nine rebounds and five assists.
Barrett carried the load again, this time with 27 points and 9-for-13 shooting.
OG Anunoby was all over the place defensively and scored 36 points for Toronto. Gary Trent Jr. had 26 points and Fred VanVleet added 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
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 him.
Asked what Toronto 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."
The damage continued to pile on as the Raptors turned a 50-35 deficit with 3:50 remaining in the second quarter into an 85-74 lead with 3:39 left in the third — a 50-point outburst in a span of 12:11. The Knicks never got closer than nine in the fourth quarter.
On the night, Toronto had 21 fast-break points to three for the Knicks, taking advantage of 20 turnovers.