The Raptors ended their regular season by blowing a 21-point lead in a 95-92 loss to the New York Knicks Wednesday. But with playoffs on the horizon, Toronto is looking toward its next game.
With a Chicago Bulls loss to the Charlotte Bobcats in overtime, the Raptors still landed the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They’ll open up their first post-season series since 2008 by hosting the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets on Saturday.
“We know we can beat them. We beat them twice this year, and we beat ‘em once without me playing. We’re all excited,” said all-star DeMar DeRozan, who played just 22 minutes in Wednesday’s loss.
New York (37-45) finished its disappointing season on a high note, with Cole Aldrich making the tie-breaking dunk with 1:23 left to cap off a four-game winning streak. J.R. Smith scored 30 points, and Aldrich finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds.
“We held ourselves to huge expectations, had big shoes to fill. Unfortunately we didn’t fill them like we wanted to,” Smith said. “We just take that on the chin and use that for preparation for next year.”
Kyle Lowry scored 22 points in 26 minutes for the Raptors, who finished 48-34.
“The mindset going in was to make sure our guys didn’t get hurt and get some rest and we did that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
The Knicks charged back to tie at 74 entering the fourth by outscoring the Raptors 30-17 in the third. The game became meaningless during the period when Charlotte finished off an overtime victory over Chicago, meaning the Raptors could do no worse than finish tied with the Bulls. Toronto owned the tiebreaker as a division champion.
The Raptors were a team that wasn’t expected to be in the playoffs. Instead, they replaced the Knicks as Atlantic Division champions.
“This is huge. When I first got here that was one of my biggest goals, to get this team back to the playoffs and I’m happy to be there,” Lowry said. “But, I’m not satisfied. I want to make some noise and show that we’re a good team.”
Toronto won six of its final eight games. The only other loss was last Friday to the Knicks, a night before New York was eliminated from the post-season when it couldn’t climb all the way out of the huge hole it dug with its dismal start.
“The last month and a half, two months has been great for our ballclub to see them back playing like Knick basketball should be played,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said, “so I’m excited about that.”
Smith’s dunk tied it at 90, and he followed Aldrich’s basket with a jumper to make it 94-90 with 21 seconds to go. Tyler Hansbrough scored while being fouled and the Knicks couldn’t get the rebound after he missed the free throw. But Toronto eventually threw away an inbounds pass and Smith made one last free throw.
The Knicks won without Carmelo Anthony, sidelined by a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and fellow starters Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton on the last game before changes could come.
Woodson said before the game he believe he’s the right coach for this team, but hasn’t had a conversation with new president Phil Jackson yet about his future. That’s likely Jackson’s first big decision, with another this summer if Anthony goes through with his plan to become a free agent.
Lowry scored 17 in the first quarter, when the Raptors made 11 of 17 shots and led 28-21. Toronto quickly pushed the lead into double figures in the second, opening the period with an 11-2 burst that made it 39-23 on Dwight Buycks’ 3-pointer. Toronto went ahead by as much as 21 before taking a 57-44 lead into the break.
Notes: The Knicks announced they had signed Lamar Odom before the game, giving Jackson the off-season to look at a player who thrived playing for him when Jackson coached the Lakers. Odom was a key member of the Lakers’ championship teams in 2009 and 2010, and the Sixth Man of the Year in 2011.