Just when you thought you'd seen it all this season, Mother Nature threw the Toronto Raptors another curveball Sunday night.
Trailing 76-66 to the New York Knicks late in the third quarter, Madison Square Garden sprung a leak forcing an 11:26 rain delay. Out of nowhere, it seemed to breathe some life into Toronto who strung together an 8-0 run to end the quarter. But knowing the way this season has gone for Toronto, it was too good to be true.
After a brief turnaround, Toronto watched a late lead vanished. Even after RJ Barrett nailed a clutch 3-pointer to put the Knicks up four in the final minute, the Raptors still had a chance. Kyle Lowry picked off an errant pass, dished it ahead to Pascal Siakam for a game-tying fast-break chance, but the Raptors' 27-year-old forward couldn't converting the clutch. He got too fancy with the ball and a little indecisiveness buried him as he double dribbled, turning over the ball, and costing the Raptors who fell 102-96.
"I gave it to P in the middle, and we had a 3 on 2. Gary stopped a little higher than P probably wanted him, and Gary wanted to get the quicker shot," Nurse said. "P was about to make a pass, and then he decided to go, and it happens. It's a mistake that happens."
At this point in the season, nothing should be too unexpected. Lowry returned from a six-game absence due to a right foot infection and showed no signs of rust. He came out of the gates to score 14 of his 19 points before the break and half of Toronto's first 28 points.
It wasn't until the second half that Lowry finally started getting some help. Gary Trent Jr. caught fire for 14 points his team-high 23 points in the third quarter alone while Siakam and Chris Boucher began to chip into the Knicks lead. Between some offensive fireworks and stops in Toronto's zone defence, the Raptors built up a four-point lead early in the fourth.
"I thought we changed the rhythm of the game," Nurse said. "I just thought we were kind of really cohesive in it."
After starting the game with DeAndre' Bembry alongside Lowry, Nurse turned to Flynn in the final minutes as Toronto's secondary guard. The 22-year-old rookie hit what appeared to be back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Raptors up four early in the fourth, but his first 3-pointer was subsequently ruled out a costly turnover. It squandered what could have been a very impressive nine-point quarter for Flynn playing crunch time in a crucial game for the Raptors.
"It was super physical, as you can see, it was really, really rough out there and I think that’s good for him to go through," Nurse said of Flynn. "I thought he did good, he made some explosive plays, he made some tough shots, he was guarding. I thought he looked good out there and you’re right, it is valuable for him to get out there and play in a high-level game down the stretch, a physical game."
Even with the loss, the Raptors were helped out by former assistant coach Chris Finch whose Minnesota Timberwolves upset the Chicago Bulls to keep the race for the final play-in spot even. Despite their 21-33 record, Toronto is just two games out of the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference.
Up Next: Atlanta Hawks
The Raptors will head back home to Tampa and play host to the Atlanta Hawks at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday,