The Knicks' youth movement began in earnest Monday night at the Garden.
The team waived backup point guard Brandon Jennings in the morning, opening more playing time for rookie Ron Baker. In the afternoon, the Knicks announced Joakim Noah would miss at least three weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, clearing more consistent playing time for rookie Willy Hernangomez and 26-year-old Kyle O'Quinn.
But the boost of young energy offered little change. Once again, the Knicks built an early lead and blew it. Once again, their defense was too inconsistent to produce a victory. And once again, the Knicks fell in a game they could have won, this time 92-91 to the Raptors.
Toronto star guard DeMar Derozen, who poured in a game-high 37 points, drilled the game-winning jumper with 1.9 seconds left to lift the Raptors to victory. The All-Star isolated on the left wing, backing down Derrick Rose before turning around and unleashing a 20-foot fadeaway jumper over Rose's outstretched arm.
Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks (24-36) with 24 points on a miserable 9 of 26 shooting, had a wide-open look at the buzzer from the top of three-point arc. It hit front rim. Anthony took off his white headband and spiked it onto the floor in frustration after missing the shot. He hit a game-winning jumper in Saturday's win over the 76ers.
Derrick Rose added 14 points, six rebounds and four assists in Monday's loss. Baker, coming off the bench, totaled five points, five rebounds and two assists. Hernangomez finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two assists.
The Raptors (36-24) played without star guard Kyle Lowry, who will undergo wrist surgery Tuesday to remove a loose body in his wrist. He hopes to return in time for playoffs.
Absent their orchestrator and facilitator, the Raptors looked lost offensively for long stretches Monday night, particularly in the opening two quarters. The Knicks capitalized with one of their second-best defensive first half of the season, holding Toronto to just 40 points. The only other time the Knicks surrendered fewer points in a first half was Nov. 14, when they allowed 39 to the Mavs.
Courtney Lee keyed the Knicks on the defensive end with one of his strongest showings of the season. He finished with five steals and two blocks, wreaking havoc on the unsettled and uncomfortable Toronto offense. Lee also scored 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting.
The Knicks carried a 13-point lead into halftime, but their offense stalled in the third quarter. They mustered just 14 points in the period, as the Raptors found a groove and pulled within four points.
The teams then traded blows in a wild fourth that featured a slew of lead changes.
After the Raptors' comeback, Anthony gave the Knicks the lead with 2:36 remaining, drilling an and-1 16-foot jumper. Later, with the Knicks trailing by two, Lance Thomas connected on a corner three to put the Knicks ahead by one point.
DeRozen answered with a three of his own before Derrick Rose tied the game at 88 with 33 seconds left, driving into the paint and sinking one of his patented right-handed floaters. But the Knicks lapsed on the next defensive possession, allowing DeRozen to get to the basket for an easy layup.
Lee hit a second-chance three to put the Knicks ahead with 10.6 seconds left before DeRozen put the finishing touches on his masterful performance.
By Daniel Popper