NEW YORK -- According to Tyson Chandler, the Knicks were "uptight" Monday night in their first home game since their Christmas Day victory over the Celtics. Playing without Amar'e Stoudemire will do that to you.
But on the two possessions that doomed them against the Toronto Raptors, the Knicks weren't uptight. They were just at the mercy of Andrea Bargnani.
Clinging to a one-point lead in the final minute, the Raptors went to Bargnani on high pick-and-rolls on two straight possessions, anticipating that the Knicks would stick with their game-long approach to switching on the Toronto big man and leaving a smaller defender on him. Earlier in the game, when the screens had been set closer to the elbow, Bargnani got the ball in the mid-post against smaller defenders like Landry Fields and Toney Douglas and made them pay.
Both times at the end of the game, the Knicks switched and left Fields to defend Bargnani on the perimeter instead of Chandler. Both times, Bargnani delivered -- first with a 17-footer, and then with two free throws after Fields fouled him. The Raptors led by as many as 18 and beat the Knicks 90-85.
"It worked out for Andrea," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "One of the things he's doing is learning how to play against switches. That's the same thing Dirk (Nowitzki) went through, and so I was talking to him about that -- how we're using some of the same sets we used for Dirk against switches."
After Bargnani's 17-footer gave Toronto an 86-83 lead, Carmelo Anthony passed to Chandler for a dunk on a pick-and-roll to again cut it to one, 86-85, with 34.6 seconds left. The Raptors ran the same play and baited Fields into a foul, leading to two free throws and an 88-85 Raptors lead with 17.7 seconds left. The Knicks elected to go for a quick 3-point attempt from Anthony, which fell short.
"The play was for me to go quick," Anthony said. "We were down three with 17 seconds left. If I made it, we tied the game up. If I missed it, we had a chance to get the rebound."
Neither happened, leaving the Knicks to dwell on their defensive approach to guarding Bargnani (21 points) on the two most important possessions of the game. Switching on high pick-and-rolls is vintage Mike Woodson, the Knicks' defensive assistant who had a reputation for switching everything in Atlanta because he had so many long, quick athletes.
"I thought it was good that we switched it," Chandler said. "I definitely thought it was the right play. I just think we weren't aggressive enough with it. The play was for us to switch immediately and keep him more on the perimeter where the guard should have the advantage. The only time he's going to have the advantage is when he's more up on the elbow where he can be more comfortable with his shot and just kind of stand flat-footed and just shoot over the guy. Everything we do, we just have to be a little more aggressive with it."
After beating the Kings in Sacramento Saturday without Stoudemire (ankle), the Knicks are hopeful he'll return Wednesday night against Charlotte.
"We're not too concerned," said Anthony, who had 35 points but missed nine of his 13 shots in the second and third quarters. "We need him out there at 100 percent, not 70 percent."
In the meantime, the Knicks (2-3) need to "let go and play," Chandler said.
"Right now, it seems like we're a little uptight, and there's no reason to be," Chandler said.
Not yet, anyway.