new york knicks
Mandatory Credit: Rich Schultz/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks continue to gain steam in the Eastern Conference after beating Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors.

The New York Knicks are rolling after winning their last two games in dramatic fashion. They were able to stave off a late comeback attempt from the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night to get back to .500. The Knicks are in the thick of the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference.

Julius Randle led the way for the Knicks with 26 points (11-for-11 FT), eight rebounds, and five assists, but it was RJ Barrett who was the star in this one. He was efficient from the field, facilitated for his teammates, took care of the ball, and hit the biggest shot of the night.

Here are three highlights and three observations from New York’s 102-96 win over Toronto on Sunday night.

Highlight 1: Nerlens Noel Block Party

Highlight 2: Backdoor Julius Randle

Highlight 3: RJ Barrett Clutch

Observation 1: Mental Toughness

This game was all about resiliency for the Knicks. Unlike Saturday’s come-from-behind win, the Knicks had to thwart a second-half surge from the Raptors this time around. Fortunately, the Knicks have a budding star who has a flair for the dramatic.

Barrett’s dagger three in the final seconds of the game helped cement the win. Individually, Barrett is showing massive growth in these big moments, but the team as a whole seems to be figuring out how to get over the hump in these close games.

New York’s last two wins could be a turning point for this team growing forward. If nothing else, it shows the maturation process of this young group. Good teams find ways to win when they don’t have their best night.

“I like that we had 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,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the game.

Observation 2: High-Leverage Every Night

No matter the opponent, the Knicks are playing in high-leverage games each and every night. With only 18 games left on New York’s schedule, time is running out on making a move in the Eastern Conference standings.

The games are beginning to feel more important and this could do one of two things to the Knicks. These high-leverage games combined with Thibodeau’s heavy workload could leave the players gassed for the stretch run.

Or, on a more positive slant, the crucible of this playoff hunt could be exactly what these young Knicks need to take another step forward.

Barrett is clearly benefitting from playing meaningful games this late in the season. Immanuel Quickley‘s minutes have dipped in favor of some of the vets, but he’s still gaining valuable experience in these games. Randle has never been to the playoffs before. These types of do-or-die moments could be huge for this team’s overall development.

Observation 3: Kyle Lowry Future Knick?

Kyle Lowry is the kind of player every team should want. He’s smart, tough, and knows how to win games. The six-time All-Star is set to become a free agent this summer and it’s clear that his days with the Raptors are numbered after they tried shopping him at the trade deadline.

He could be a nice one or two-year stopgap for the Knicks at point guard while they look for the long-term answer at the position. Quickley has flashed potential, but he might be better off learning under Lowry as an understudy.

The Knicks are going to have a boatload of salary cap space and the free-agent pool is not all that deep. Don’t be surprised if they throw a big bag at Lowry on a one-year deal.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.