As Eastern Conference teams around them jockeyed for playoff positioning, the Toronto Raptors went to Madison Square Garden looking to win their 49th game of the season against the New York Knicks. Good thing their playoff fate as the three-seed in the conference didn’t hinge on whether they won the game or not.
The Knicks rallied from a 21-point deficit and defeated the Raptors 95-92 in the final regular season game for both teams. While the win may provide a temporary (very temporary) bit of solace as the Knicks enter an offseason full of uncertainty, the Raptors, despite the loss, still finished with a franchise record 48-win season. As much as one would’ve liked to focus on the actual game between the Knicks and Raptors, commentators and media personalities alike, and surely fans as well, were caught in the race for playoff positioning, clearly of greater interest than the game itself.
The Raptors’ 22 road wins tied the Miami Heat for the most in the Eastern Conference this season. They have the ninth-best point differential in the NBA at plus-3.2. Offensively, they make the seventh most three point attempts in the league per game at 8.7, while shooting the three at a respectable 37.2 percent as a team. Defensively, only two teams in the East, the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls, allow opponents to shoot a lower field goal percentage than the Raptors’ 45 percent. The Raptors are an athletic team that is strong on both sides of the ball, yet seemingly everyone wanted to play them in the first round.
The Brooklyn Nets, specifically, lost four out of five down the stretch to finish in the six-seed and play a first round series against Canada’s only team. Brooklyn trails only the Heat in the race for oldest team in the league, while the Raptors are the ninth-youngest team. Yes, the Nets are far more experienced in playoff games played, largely thanks to the experience of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The age and wear and tear on the body to get that experience edge, however, may prove to be the Nets’ demise. Keep in mind, this is also a Brooklyn team with a first-year head coach in Jason Kidd. It is a team that was assembled to be title contenders right now — something they are not. The pressure must be immense on the Nets and their tired bodies heading into the postseason.
The Raptors, on the other hand, have a youthful team that has exceeded expectations all year under Dwane Casey. Remember, Casey was an assistant coach to Rick Carlisle on the Dallas Mavericks championship team of 2011. When looking for a certain type of coach with the ‘been there, done that’ attributes to calm the nerves of a young playoff team, someone like Casey is the optimal fit. A happy-go-lucky young team like the Raptors could prove a tougher playoff out than many (hello, Brooklyn) are anticipating.
While all of the above is of no importance to the Knicks, aside from their three point victory tonight, much had to have been on the minds of the Raptors players and coaching staff during the game. The Raptors won’t waste time mourning the loss now, however. Rather, they’ll prepare for their return to the playoffs and their matchup against the Nets. New York, in the mean time, will no doubt find a way to make a bit of noise in the coming weeks, despite their lack of postseason basketball.