As rain pounded the roof Sunday night, the famed Garden pinwheeled ceiling sprung a leak, causing a 14-minute delay.
The Knicks’ defense, for an uncharacteristically long stretch in the second half, also let them down. The Knicks couldn’t do anything right after going up by 18 points early in the third quarter, as the Raptors went on a 40-15 run to take a five-point lead halfway through the fourth quarter.
But this is a new age for the Knicks. Before they could choke the game away, they rallied late and beat Toronto 102-96 to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Raptors.
“We found a way at the end,’’ Tom Thibodeau said. “I like we have the mental toughness to work our way through it and pull it out in the end. But I think we’re capable of playing better than we did today.”
More significantly, the Knicks are almost certain to qualify for the play-in tournament. They are also six games ahead of the Raptors, who are currently in 11th place. The top ten teams will be qualified for either a play-in or a playoff berth.
The Knicks couldn’t have done anything worse offensively in the second half, missing 15 of 17 shots at one point while being stumped by the Toronto zone. There was no collaboration or flow.
“There’s a tendency when you go through that — we have guys who want to do what’s best for the team — but you have to do it collectively and not get out of it by yourself,’’ Thibodeau said. “If you go too much one-on-one, it will hurt you.’’
However, if you play good defense, as the Knicks have all season, you can win any game. When the Lakers pay their lone visit on Monday, they may find out.
Nerlens Center Noel had a total of four blocks. Reggie Bullock had three steals to his credit. To get the Knicks back to.500, RJ Barrett hit another big three and Julius Randle hit clutch free throws in the final seconds.
The Knicks aren’t made for quick, so this should have been a lot simpler. Barrett said he was still “excited” about the victory, regardless of how it appeared.
“What I’ve learned, being in the NBA,’’ Barrett said, “is it’s a long game. Anything can happen.”
Bullock snuffed out Toronto’s first possession of the night, intercepting a pass and gliding in for a layup. Bullock double-teamed Pascal Siakam on the final possession of the first period, ripping the ball away and heading in for another layup.
Knicks 24, Raptors 16 at the close of the first quarter. Toronto was no longer in Cleveland. The Raptors had scored 47 points in the first quarter the night before.
Tom Thibodeau’s Garden of Defense is open to the public.
The Knicks led 56-42 at halftime. The Raptors had a 31% shooting percentage. Even though the game got a little muddy in the second half due to the storm, the Knicks were making a point.
Thibodeau’s Timberwolves broke a 14-year playoff drought three years ago on Sunday.
Ironically, based on his remarks about the Knicks’ defense on Friday, the Wolves’ star rookie and No. 1-overall pick Anthony Edwards probably wouldn’t mind playing for Thibodeau.
Edwards, the front-runner for rookie of the year, was asked about how the Wolves would improve their defense.
He sounded like a wise man when he mentioned Thibodeau’s Knicks, lavishing praise on them. The defensive statistics indicate a substantial improvement, but it’s more significant to hear Edwards praise the Knicks without any preconceived prejudices.
“If you give effort, you got great defense,’’ Edwards said. “If you watch New York night in and night out, they don’t have great single defenders. Whatever their defensive game plan is, that’s great. They play great defense as a team at all times. I love watching them play defense. I feel they’re the best defensive team in the league. They play hard. They take you out of your stuff and pressure you.”
Nobody faulted the Knicks’ defense during their recent 1-5 slump. The Knicks allowed only 102 points per game in those five defeats.
Thibodeau might never win an NBA coach-of-the-month title, but March winner Nate McMillan of the red-hot Atlanta Hawks isn’t being mocked on “Saturday Night Live” like Thibodeau was this weekend. To be honest, members of the Saturday Night Live cast have been frequent visitors to celebrity row over the years, so this wasn’t retaliation.
Kid Cudi and Pete Davidson versed in a parody rap song called “Weird Little Flute,” saying, “Learning can be difficult… So, like Thibodeau, I put in a lot of practice time… And it’s the only time I get really far… I play my piccolo at this time.”
Utah’s Quin Snyder is not getting that SNL love anytime soon.
“He pushes me every single day,’’ Knicks rookie Obi Toppin said before the game. “He challenges me every single day to be better, not just offensively but definitely defensively.’’
It would be surprising if the Knicks fell out of the play-in tournament and into 11th place right now.
They are not vulnerable to a huge slide because their style is based entirely on defense (they allow the fewest points in the league at 104.5 per game).
In the second half, there were big questions about their offensive prowess, and Alec Burks’ late turnover with a two-point lead may have been egregious if not for Siakam’s resulting double-dribble. A little bit of luck. There’s a lot of protection.
Thibodeau seemed irritated for the majority of the evening, but he did crack a smile while discussing the rain delay.
“I thought it was baseball,’’ he said.