Basketball REPORTER It was fun while it lasted.
During their feel good six-game winning streak, the Toronto Raptors did their best to look like a team that was merely misunderstood, that had missed the playoffs by mistake or misfortune.
But the warm feelings were washed away in a fashion all too familiar this year during the New York Knicks' 112-103 win over Toronto before 18,879 fans at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors easily surrendered dribble penetration and three-point shots to their opponents, who were made to feel like welcome dinner guests instead of hated interlopers.
The Raptors grab bag of sins were evident all night at the ACC as New York drilled 13 triples on 25 tries, many set up after one Knicks player or another got the ball into the paint, drew the Raptors in, and then bounced the ball back outside to someone waiting, feet set. The Raptors shot just 4-of-13 from deep.
Easy penetration and open looks from the three-point line are formulas for disaster and the Raptors have been cooking it up all season. They fell to 30-46 on the year, 17-21 at home.
"It started with a little penetration early and they were able to get to the basket," Raptors interim head coach Jay Triano said. "We started leaning a bit. . . . They go 7-of-10 [from the three-point line in the first half] and we dig ourselves a bit of a hole."
Triano's metaphor might also describe Toronto's entire season. It was fitting that the loss to the Knicks officially eliminated Toronto from a playoff appearance.
Not that any of the Raptors knew that when they were told of their elimination after the game, suggesting either a blinders-on approach to the unlikely task, or the reality that the Raptors' playoff ship had sailed long ago.
"What's done is done," said Raptors all-star Chris Bosh, who delivered 31 points and 14 rebounds to lead all players from both teams in each category. "You can't dwell on the past."
But with Raptors season-high winning streak - and the longest by the team since the 2006-07 season - now gone it's worth wondering what it all meant.
Before the game, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni stopped a reporter short when it was suggested the two clubs were heading in different directions.
Before last night the Knicks were losers of four in a row and 10 of their past 11, as compared to the red-hot Raptors.
"They're going the same direction we're going," D'Antoni said. "We're going to the beach right after the season the same way that [the Raptors] are."
The Raptors have won the same number of games, but see silver linings, many sewn during a stretch of consistent play built in idealized, hot-house conditions: a five-game homestand and just one opponent with a winning record - the Orlando Magic, whom the Raptors upset last Tuesday.
"I think there is meaning in it," Triano said before the game. "Have we started playing the way I have envisioned, a little bit? Yeah, moving the Basketball, sharing the Basketball, getting up and down the floor, balanced scoring. We've seen a lot of that. I like what I've seen."
The Raptors played the Knicks on Saturday in New York and looked authoritative in coming back from a shaky first half to win going away. Last night, with a chance to extend their winning streak to the longest in seven years, they came out flat, in the words of point guard Jose Calderon.
NOTES After playing the New York Knicks on consecutive days over the weekend, the Toronto Raptors have a day off today before playing back-to-back games again, beginning tomorrow at home against the Atlanta Hawks. ... With the Knicks playing small, Raptors interim head coach Jay Triano elected to use Quincy Double in the third quarter to match up with 5-foot-8 Nate Robinson. ... The last time the Raptors won six games in a row was in 2006-07. The Raptors won nine successive games between March 27 and April 9 in the 2001-02 season. ... Over their six-game winning streak, the Raptors averaged 48 rebounds a game, eight more than their season average. ... Before last night's game, Raptors starters Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Chris Bosh, Shawn Marion and Anthony Parker had a 9-10 record since being brought together after the NBA all-star game break.
NEXT Tomorrow, against the Atlanta Hawks, at the Air Canada Centre, 7 p.m. ET
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