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What Didn’t Suck? – The Knicks … not sucking

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Look, sometimes the Raptors are going to lose games. You can be bitter about it, stewing in the juices of every unfortunate call or disappointing performance. Or you can embrace it as a necessary bump in the arduous 82-game road that will both build your character as a fan, and act as learning experience for the team going forward. Every loss, on some level, is good. 

For the remainder of the season, in the aftermath of each Raptors loss, we’ll highlight the good vibes that were overshadowed by the superficial and unrepresentative final score. Even in the defeat, the Raptors can learn something about themselves, or take you on your own personal journey of self-realization and growth. A stand-out stat line or unheralded performance should never go unrecognized, despite the stench of defeat that the loathsome “RINGZ” faction might attach to it. Sometimes the Raptors’ll just have someone throw down a cool dunk. All of it is worthy of documentation. 

Welcome to the corner of Raptors Internet where there are no losers. This is What Didn’t Suck for the Raptors’ 108-100 loss to the Knicks. 

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Playing against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden is supposed to be an event. Spike Lee is supposed to shit talk your favourite team’s stars. The atmosphere is supposed to be one befitting of the “mecca” label the arena has been branded with.

Aside from that one fun Carmelo Anthony season that now seems to be eons in the rear view, those elements have been lacking for the majority of this century while the Knicks have toiled as an unsmotherable flaming wreckage. Knick fans have certainly maintained their eagerness to get fired up. A big win or LeBron James showcase will still rock MSG, hinting at the fervor that would be more constant if the team didn’t stink all the damn time. But those climaxes are outliers to the lifeless hum that has largely defined the arena and team. The Knicks haven’t been an opponent anyone circles on their printable schedule with anticipation in ages.

For the Raptors, the Knicks have just been another Atlantic Division team to beat up on for the last four-plus years. “I’m really jazzed for this match-up with Alexey Shved or Cleanthony Early or Joakim Noah’s calcified remains,” is a phrase no Raptors fan or player has ever uttered. Coming into Wednesday night’s 108-100 loss (a 100-80 Raptors win if you repress the memory of the 28-0 run New York went on in the third), the Raptors had won eight-straight against their once annual playoff foes.

Easy wins are nice. Division rivals that test you are oh so much better. If listing the most memorable in-division games the Raptors have played since they got good, it would be top-heavy with clashes against the loathsome-but-competent Celtics. I’m not even sure the Raptors have played the Nets or Sixers since 2014.

All of this is why Wednesday night was so refreshing. Yeah, the Raptors came out of that bonkers game with a loss and busted winning streak. That pales in importance next to the joy the Knicks generated throughout the game. From Enes Kanter’s first-minute yam on Serge Ibaka, to Tim Hardaway Jr.’s $71 million third quarter, to the final frame in which the Raptors very much did not lay down, the MSG crowd buzzed with the kind of energy ESPN makes 30-for-30s about.

You can try and assess the ways in which the Raptors self-destructed in the 41-10 third. Any first-half offensive urgency the team had dissipated during the break. DeMar DeRozan’s defense stooped below even his typical substandard levels. Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira rebounded about as responsibly as early season-three Marissa Cooper. There are absolutely some big nits to be picked. You can also tip a cap to a Knicks team that played their bags off for 12 out-of-body minutes. As frustrating as the Raptors’ squandering the game was, it was hard to contain the excited bewilderment of watching a Knicks team play positively un-Knicksy basketball with the home crowd egging it on.

At this point Raptors fans are past the point of needing to fret over regular season losses — especially ones that, outside of one quarter, weren’t addled by abjectly poor play. The Raptors, barring some cataclysmic wave of bad injury luck, are going to be a 50-ish win team firmly entrenched somewhere in the top half of the Eastern Conference. New York needed that 28-0 run more than the Raptors needed to not allow it to happen. Sometimes it’s okay to give one to the little guy — or in this case, the beaten-down and perpetually sad really big guy.

Maybe this year’s Knicks are overachieving relative to their roster talent. A playoff appearance still feels like an ambitious goal for a team starting Jarrett Jack at point guard. Something feels different, though. Regression won’t wrap New York in cloak of depression this time around. With Phil Jackson and his retirement home smell washed away, there’s a path to legitimate NBA relevance revealing itself for the Knicks, with Kristaps Porzingis and Frankie Smokes leading the ascent from the basement.  A good and exciting Knicks team is a drug that enhances the NBA experience. Wednesday night offered but a taste of the ecstasy this team could soon be a constant supplier of.

Knicks fans deserve this. No online fan base is more enjoyable to observe and interact with. Self-deprecating and painfully aware of their predicament, but held back from total nihilism by an ability to latch on to even the teensiest nubs of hope, they run counter to some of the league’s more entitled and/or Celticsy support groups. You get the sense that a 47-win Knicks team would be revered by its fans on the same level that most NBA champions are in their own cities.

We’re well past due for some high-leverage Mike Breen “Bang!” eruptions. Clyde Frazier’s whimsical phrases deserve to be lent to meaningful hoops. Playoff games at MSG naturally come by the atmosphere every other team seeks to manufacture with t-shirts and watch parties.  A Knicks team that isn’t actively wetting itself is a good thing for anyone who professes to be an NBA fan.

From a Raptors fan perspective, yawning is no longer the default reaction when the Knicks pop up on the schedule. Are wins going to become progressively harder to come by as the Atlantic Division’s rejuvenation process continues? Absolutely. But even if they’re not centralized in an arbitrarily constructed division, there will always be crappy teams for the Raptors to leech wins off of (see you on Saturday, Atlanta). If you’re going to be thrust into a forced geographical rivalry, your opponent might as well be fun and challenging to play. If the Knicks’ needed that kooky ass win on Wednesday to prove to themselves that they’re not longer a Raptors doormat, that’s fine. Ultimately, a good Knicks team will enrich the experience of following the Raptors more than one loss hurts it.

 

 

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Podcast host and writer for Locked on Raptors, Raptors HQ and Hoop Talks Live. Terrence Ross believer. On Twitter @WoodleySean. It's 10 grown men playing with a ball -- let's have some fun with it.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Holly Go LIghtly

    November 24, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Sometime in the middle of the second half, I had an epiphany. “I don’t hate this NY Knicks team.” By definition, I like all of the Baltic players who have ever played in the NBA, even Kleiza. If there is one place on the planet where they revere basketball above all else, it’s Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. So Porzingis, given his remarkable talents, is easy to like. (And I keep thinking that this is who Bargnani was supposed to be….) . I also admire Enes Kanter for standing up to Erdogan–that’s a brave, brave thing to do. And Tim Hardaway Jr. is a joy to watch. Knicks fans seem genuinely thrilled to have a team that competes. In a year or two, when expectations balloon out of proportion, I’ll probably go back to despising the Knicks. But, for now, I’m happy for them.

    As for the Raptors, I do think they need a few very tight games to figure out what (and who) works and what doesn’t. Their comeback in the 4th–led by the 2nd unit, was important. If the whole goal is to go deep in the playoffs, it is crucial that the Raptors are battle-tested. Having said all of that, I am surprised at how badly JV and Ibaka play together. It could just be a matter of needing more time to get used to each other, but they have zero chemistry.,

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