Perhaps it was fitting that Andrea Bargnani took the microphone at the Air Canada Centre and thanked the fans at mid-court before the Raptors opened their season against the New York Knicks.
Now the face of the franchise in the post-Chris Bosh era, he scored the Raptors’ first seven points of the game on Wednesday night and finished with 22 points and six rebounds.
However, 18 of those points came in the first half as Toronto fell to the Knicks 98-93.
Point guard Jarrett Jack drained 16 points and six assists while newcomer Linas Kleiza contributed 13 points in the loss. Reggie Evans went scoreless but collected a beastly 16 rebounds.
New York was led by Wilson Chandler’s 22 points off the bench and Amar’e Stoudemire’s late charge helped him finish with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
The Raptors kept New York’s prize free-agent acquisition in check for most of the second half, but given his track record, it couldn’t last for long – and it didn’t.
Stoudemire’s biggest impact came when Bargnani attempted to drive the paint for a layup and the former Phoenix Sun rose to the challenge, stuffing the Italian late in the fourth.
He then drained a baseline dagger that extended his team’s lead to 94-87. Soon after, he stutter-stepped into the paint and nailed a running floater with less than two minutes remaining.
The Knicks never looked back.
Toronto, though, mustered up the illusion of a late rally on the strength of Jack’s energy.
He exploded to the rim and delivered a difficult layup after corralling a Bargnani miss, bringing his team to within three points at 96-93.
Kleiza had an opportunity to tie it with 30 seconds left, but could not drain his clean-look three-point attempt.
With 11 seconds on the clock, the Raptors’ last-gasp came when Leandro Barbosa had an opportunity from the corner, but was defended well and tossed up an air-ball.
The Brazilian Blur scored all of his 13 points in the second half, attempting to make up for Bargnani’s scoreless third quarter.
Early in the game, aggression was the theme for the new-look Raptors.
No. 7 was on a mission and showed no shyness in the paint, attacking the rim at every opportunity.
However, defence was again the Achilles heel for the Dinos in the first half.
New York led 29-22 heading into the second quarter and took advantage of a porous Raptors’ defensive front.
Defending the perimeter was a daunting task for the home team as it allowed the Knicks to go 7-for-24 from three-point range in the game.
With all the new faces, team cohesion was an issue for Toronto. Turning the ball over five times in the first quarter, the Raptors also allowed New York to open up the second frame on a 6-0 run and take a 35-22 advantage.
Point guard Jose Calderon’s frustration showed after a turnover. The Spaniard was a victim of the NBA’s new no-tolerance policy on player complaints and was whistled for the technical foul early in the second.
Head coach Jay Triano took a time out, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Except for those of Jack, who fearlessly obliterated the New York defence inside the paint, scoring the Raptors’ first field goal of the second quarter on a layup at the 8:15 mark.
The Raptors welcome the LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers next at the Air Canada Centre Friday night (7 p.m. ET).