It is not often that a National Basketball Association coach will evoke the name of a Canadian university hoops team when discussing the uneven path his club has traversed this season
But that is precisely what coach Dwane Casey did when trying to illuminate why his Toronto Raptors have experienced relatively good fortune against the New York Knicks this season while struggling against many of the NBA's lesser-talented clubs.
The Raptors played the Knicks Friday night at the Air Canada Centre for the third time this season with Toronto walking off with impressive victories in each of the first two meetings.
That is an oddity when you consider that the Knicks are a solid bunch that is headed for the post-season while the Raptors are travelling a familiar route that will lead them to a fifth successive campaign without a post-season appearance.
"It's the New York Knicks," Casey said before the game when asked to explain why the Big Apple crew core seems to bring out the best in Toronto. "If you can't get up for them..." he added, with no need to complete his thought.
It is a habit, Casey said, that he needs to ween his players from.
Two nights earlier in Charlotte, the Raptors came up flat in a 107-101 loss to the Bobcats who have mined two of their 16 victories this season off Toronto.
"We're not where we can just get up for a team. We're trying to develop that consistent approach, whether it's New York, Miami -- Ryerson," Casey said, the last a reference to the Toronto-based institution that competes at the university level.
The Knicks (41-26) finally managed to earn a measure of pay-back, riding a strong outing from Carmelo Anthony to tame the Raptors (26-43) 99-94, who lost for the third consecutive time before a sellout gathering of 19,800.
Anthony was awesome, filling the basket for a game-high 37 points as the Knicks took advantage of a suspect Toronto defence by connecting on 53.5 per cent (38 of 71) of their shots.
Alan Anderson came up big for Toronto, establishing a new career high with with 35 points but for the Raptors, it was another case of too little too late.
The Raptors, who trailed 50-37 at the half, failed to ramp up the intensity until the second half at which point it was too late to put a serious dent in the Knicks advantage.
"He (Anthony) played a great game," Casey said. "And with that said, we win the second half. If we approach the first half the way we did the second half, and not kind of tip-toe our way through, it's a different game."
Friday's game was the front end of a home-and-home series against the Knicks that will continue on Saturday in New York at Madison Square Garden.
As he did for the first two games against New York, Casey inserted Landry Fields into the starting lineup at power forward in place of Amir Johnson.
Fields, who practiced against Anthony while the two were teammates for several years in New York, is felt to be more familiar with the all-star's modus operandi and therefore a better defending option.
But Anthony would have been a load for anybody on this night and was key in boosting an injury ravaged Knicks lineup that was missing the likes of Amar'e Stoudamire, Kurt Thomas and Tyson Chandler, to a 50-37 lead by halftime.
Toronto's cause was not helped when leading scorer Rudy Gay jammed his back midway through the second quarter and was lost for the rest of the game. Casey said he is not certain on the extent of injury.
With Gay out, Anderson was thrust into an offensive role, and he scored 18 of his total in the third quarter that helped the Raptors cut New York's lead to 77-71 heading into the fourth.
The Raptors would slice that lead to 84-82 with just over six minutes left when DeMar DeRozan hit a free throw to complete a three-point play that sent a wave of excitement through the home town throng hoping for a successful comeback.
But Anthony hit a jumper while being fouled and sank the freebie that extended the Knicks lead to a more palatable five points with just under six minutes left and the Raptors were unable to battle back.
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