Knicks fall to Raptors, 125-116, as losing streak continues

TORONTO — The Knicks have a problem.

They’re reeling. They’ve lost their defensive identity, which has been abandoned and ditched during this four-game losing streak.

It’s easy to blame the injury to Mitchell Robinson, the bouncy anchor, but if the Knicks can’t withstand the absence of a rim protector then there are issues that go much deeper.

Sunday’s 125-116 defeat to the Raptors became the latest example. It started early and took shape in the beginning of the fourth quarter, when the reserves gave up a 13-2 run in about three minutes. The Knicks couldn’t recover.

On one hand, it’s easy to see why Thibodeau leans so much into his starters with the way the reserves allow devastating wounds to open. On the other hand, he’s been leaning into them so much lately that it’s impossible for the subs to find a groove without looking over their shoulders.

In Toronto, the Knicks (25-23) got 23 points and 19 rebounds from Julius Randle and enough offense to leave Toronto with at least a more competitive effort. But they couldn’t stop the Raptors (21-27), who carved up New York’s pick-and-roll defense while shooting 15 for 34 from beyond the arc.

Six Raptors — Scottie Barnes, Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Chad Boucher, Precious Achiuwa and Pascal Siakam — scored in double-digits. Siakam, Trent Jr. and VanVleet each had at least 24. The Knicks gave up at least 116 points for the fourth straight game.

Beyond Robinson’s absence because of a fractured thumb, the Knicks navigated Sunday without Immanuel Quickley. The backup quard was a late addition to the injury report with a sore knee, although Tom Thibdoeau, true to form, provided no insight into the extent of the injury or how it occurred.

“Just general soreness,” the coach said.

It was Quickley’s first missed game of the season, and his DNP meant Evan Fournier got another shot in the rotation. The Frenchman didn’t take advantage while missing six of his nine shot attempts.

Remarkably, Sunday represented the first time all season the Knicks played with a rest in advantage. In other words, the Raptors were on the second game of a back-to-back and the Knicks came off a rest day. Thibodeau has implied New York’s unbalanced schedule was at least partially to blame for its poor record at home, which he repeated before Sunday.

“It’s been unusual. I think if you dig into it, particularly the home games, usually when you’re at home you have the rest advantage or it’s equal. But that hasn’t been the case,” the coach said. “Whatever the schedule is, the schedule is. You just have to deal with it.”

But the rest didn’t help the Knicks in Toronto. They came out flat and lazy on defense, falling in a 15-point hole after the first quarter while giving up 37.

New York clawed back to take the lead late in the third quarter, but then the 13-2 run to start the fourth doomed the Knicks.

RJ Barrett, the Canadian who received a nice ovation at introductions at ScotiaBank Arena,, said he carried extra motivation in his first homecoming game of the  season. He responded with 30 points but was also on the floor during Toronto’s fateful fourth quarter run. Barrett was juiced for his head-to-head with Barnes, who claimed after their previous matchup that he exploited the size mismatch at will.

Barnes had 19 points and left with another victory.

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