TORONTO (CP) – The Toronto Raptors came into Friday’s game against the New York Knicks hoping to clinch the Atlantic Division for just the second time in franchise history in front of a home crowd.
But after losing 108-100 they had to wait for some help from the Atlanta Hawks, which came moments later in the form of a 93-88 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
“It’s sweet and sour,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said. “It’s very sweet that we won the division but it sucks that we didn’t win it by a win. But we’ll take the division champs any day.”
Atlantic Division T-shirts were draped over each chair in the Raptors locker-room to celebrate following the Nets’ loss.
But despite locking up the division, the Raptors won’t be taking it easy for the rest of the season.
“We’re still anxious,” said DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 26 points. “We still want more. We’re not satisfied with nothing (yet).
“We understand we have much more basketball to play and a long road to go and we want to take advantage of it. Not just get there and say we got there, where people doubted us. We definitely feel like we can go in and make some noise.”
Carmelo Anthony shook off a sore shoulder and scored a game-high 30 points and Amar’e Stoudemire scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the New York Knicks (34-45) overcame a slow start to pick up the win.
Lowry added 25 points for the Raptors (46-33) and Jonas Valanciunas had 14 points and a career-high 21 rebounds.
The Knicks arrived in Toronto after a four-day break between games.
“It helped a lot,” Anthony said of the time off. “It helped big time. I got a chance to get some rest, got treatment on multiple days and it helped me tonight.”
Amir Johnson returned to the lineup after missing the previous three games with a sore right ankle. He played 17 minutes and was scoreless from the field.
“I’m good,” Johnson said. “I just got to get back into a groove. It felt like I was a step slow. Amar’e came out freaking flying … He definitely played great.”
Stoudemire’s 24 points were a season-high. He logged 40 minutes against the Raptors.
“Amar’e was big,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said. “I played him well over his minutes that we set him at, but I didn’t have a choice. He elected to go and that was good for me.”
The Knicks shot 50 per cent from the floor in the first quarter, but the Raptors held a two-point advantage over New York heading into the second quarter after scoring six-of-eight three-point attempts.
Anthony, who missed both previous games between the Knicks and Raptors this season with a sprained ankle, made his presence felt early, scoring 18 points in the first half.
“Unbelievable,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey of Anthony’s effort on the court. “He made the plays he made. He was double-teamed. John Salmons and Terrence (Ross) were draped over him. I can’t fault the effort. He made some tough shots.”
Despite Anthony’s strong performance however, the Raptors took a 47-45 lead into the break.
After connecting on 7-of-12 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half, Toronto made seven three-pointers in the third frame.
Toronto continued to struggle with Anthony, though, and the Knicks took a 78-77 lead into the fourth on the strength of Anthony’s 27 points through three quarters.
“We had no answer for him,” Casey said. “We double-teamed him. We rotated all of the big men we had. We fronted, whatever we had to do. He made the shots. He made the plays, some tough plays. Carmelo was Carmelo.”
The Raptors went more than six minutes without scoring a field goal after a dunk from DeRozan at the 9:15 mark of the fourth quarter kept them within two points. Toronto’s offensive drought allowed the Knicks to pull ahead by 11 points, their largest lead of the game.
Stoudemire scored eight of his 24 points in the fourth quarter.
Lowry, who set a franchise record for most three-pointers made in a season with 180 – passing Morris Peterson’s record of 177 set in 2005-06 – was assessed a technical foul with 2:09 remaining in the third for arguing a non-call after a drive to the basket.
Prior to the game, Casey stressed the importance of facing a team that is fighting for an opportunity to make the post-season. While he was disappointed with the loss, he said the Raptors lost to a team playing with its back against the wall.
“It’s funny how the expectations change,” Casey said. “We go from developing and now all at once we lost to Carmelo Anthony and a team like this and the world (is collapsing).
“We still have some growing to do. We have a great foundation from where we are. Now we just want to be ready to go into the playoffs with some momentum.”
NOTES: Andrew Wiggins of Vaughan, Ont., who is expected to be a top pick at the next NBA draft, sat courtside. That made for an entertaining moment when Toronto rapper Drake’s “Draft Day” was played at Air Canada Centre. The song mentions Wiggins.