Blazers Outrun Knicks in Another Lillard Thriller

"Next time you try to stop me show some respect and bring Play too." - Photo: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

After a slow start the Blazers jet past a decimated Knicks squad as Damian Lillard plays like he's the only point guard in the building.

Dave,

Knicks fan here. I understand Raymond Felton had a bad season for you guys but why all the hate? Everybody messes up sometimes. It seems irrational to make a big deal of it.

Bob from NY

Who now?

The Portland Trail Blazers didn't play a perfect game tonight. Sometimes they looked as dumb as rocks. But they collected themselves, poured a little energy into defense, and took advantage of a short-handed Knicks team for a fun and easy 105-90 victory.

The best way to describe the Knicks tonight was a butane lighter with nothing to light. They kept flicking that thing, managing to produce a credible flame early on. They were aided and abetted by curious defensive choices by the Blazers. The first period saw Portland play soft off of jump shooters when the only thing the Knicks do is shoot jumpers. Defenders laid off three steps in their individual stances and larked about like they were maying a month early while closing out. With the one guy who can't shoot, Raymond Felton, they opted to follow over screens instead of going under. The Rose Garden hardwood became a junior high dance floor...a slow, confusing mess. Whether they split screen defenders or shot over lollygagging closers the Knicks could do no wrong.

On the other end the Blazers must not have gotten the memo that Tyson Chandler wasn't playing tonight. They were content to loft jumpers without any credible penetration, making defense and rebounding a relatively easy matter for New York. The Blazers didn't shoot badly; they just weren't taking full advantage.

Things got worse instantly when Meyers Leonard checked in at center. Sometimes his defense makes you want to say, "Dude, is this your first game ever?" Now the Knicks broke down the Blazers for unopposed dunks instead of jumpers. The "ARRRGH!" factor was in full force as the Knicks raced to a 30-22 lead without ever exceeding a walking pace.

Fortunately Portland picked up the defense in the second period. They trapped hard on screens, slowing New York's roll and allowing more time for rotations. They forced turnovers and used those to spur some badly-needed breaks. To this point the Blazers had been trotting up the court and the Knicks had been trotting back, just what New York wanted. When the running started New York's dominance stopped. All of a sudden they were flicking that lighter and only getting intermittent sparks, trying desperately to find something to catch flame on before the gas ran out. J.R. Smith laid some wood down but he wasn't consistent enough to build a bonfire out of and it the heat never spread. By the end of the second quarter the Knicks' production was down to a dribble while the Blazers were rebounding and running everything they saw. Now fatigued Knicks defenders couldn't close out after sending men into the paint against dribblers and posters. Portland took full advantage, coming back all the way for a 51-48 lead at the half.

The third quarter was all about tempo, turnovers, and rebounds. All three went Portland's direction. New York couldn't stop the tide. J.R. Smith was waving a blazing brand like crazy but the lighter wouldn't even catch anymore. Portland won the period by 13 and led by 16 going into the fourth.

Portland's cumulative case of the stoopids returned early in the fourth period as the Knicks drained a couple threes against once-again-slow defense and the Blazers decided to three-point duel them. Portland being more enthusiastic than accurate from the arc, this went poorly. Then Portland started committing turnovers, feeding into more New York points. The Knicks closed the lead to 4 before the Blazers regained their senses. They pushed the tempo back the other direction. Damian Lillard dumped cold water on the J.R. Smith fire, pouring out three-pointers, jumpers, and some nifty drives of his own. The Knicks had no run left and the Blazers marched on to win by 15.

After that terrible start to the game the Blazers pretty much put the clamps on the Knicks statistically. New York shot 44% from the field while Portland hit 51% of their shots. Thanks to the fast break the Blazers outscored the Knicks 40-34 in the paint. The actual fast break total went 18-8 for Portland. Outscoring an opponent by that much on the run (and outscoring the opponent at all in the paint) is a rarity for the Blazers but it was pretty much mandatory tonight. The nail in the coffin was Portland shooting 10-28 (36%) from the arc while the Knicks shot 7-25 (28%). The Knicks shoot more three pointers than you do and they shoot them better than you do. That's their gig. If they weren't going to beat the Blazers in that category they weren't going to threaten.

In any case, despite the typical slow start this was an entertaining, energetic game. The Blazers did what they needed to do, finally waking up and putting away a crippled opponent instead of playing the infamous "6-points-or-less" game with them. The raucous crowd appreciated it.

Individual Notes

LaMarcus Aldridge came into this game after suffering migraines all day. Anyone who's had one knows that they're no joke. The TNT broadcast crew--despite demonstrating a general lack of Portland knowledge throughout the evening--identified early that lights and noise were an issue for Aldridge. The Rose Garden is not the place to feel like that. LaMarcus looked slightly hesitant on the offensive end, a shade or two short of aggressive most of the evening. He still scored 22 on 8-15 shooting though, so no harm done. Aldridge had 10 rebounds and poured extra effort into the defensive end. The lack of credible offensive threats in New York's frontcourt allowed him to roam and collect 5 blocked shots, a couple of which were downright filthy. Considering his condition, this might be one of Aldridge's better outings this year. It would have been awfully easy to just give up or to take a break on the defensive end instead of the offensive.

Damian Lillard went mega-star under the national lights and cameras. He was the one Trail Blazers the broadcasters bothered talking about. His first half was good. He was one of the only Blazers hitting consistently in that rotten first period. But his second half was a killer. The Knicks couldn't cover him and he let them know it. But this wasn't the All-Damian, All The Time outing that we've sometimes seen. He just found open spots and hit open shots, plus a couple of improbable layups. He's become much more comfortable finishing towards the rim off the drive than he was earlier in the season when his lane-shots of choice were looping fade-away heaves. Lillard had 26 points but also notched 10 assists and 2 steals with only 1 turnover. He did everything needed tonight.

Nicolas Batum had a spotty first half including refusal to shoot, refusal to drive when guarded by Kurt Thomas on the perimeter (!), contentment with the long ball, and not-great defense. Fortunately that long ball was falling and lifted him to a really good second half in which he mixed up his game a little more. He hit shots, intercepted a pass and ran, finished in the lane, canned more threes, and had a couple nifty passes. When the smoke cleared his night was plenty productive: 16 points on 6-10 shooting, 4-7 from the arc, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals.

J.J. Hickson was like the little engine that couldn't, then could tonight. New York compensated for their lack of youth and talent up front by sending the house into the lane whenever required: defense, rebound, tea party, you name it. Hickson had no problem beating any of the Knicks bigs individually but he was stymied by two or three gathered in his name. But they couldn't send extra men every time down the floor and he still managed 12 points and 16 rebounds, 6 offensive.

Wesley Matthews had another one of those nights where his main contribution was three-point shooting, except he only shot 2-7 from distance. Still, those 2 makes were quick, decisive daggers. Matthews finished with 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. You just get the feeling that if he and Batum were about half again as consistent to the good side this team would be in playoff contention. They're both good, just not often enough.

Coach Stotts kept the bench leash tight tonight, playing only 3 reserves for a rotation of 8.

Will Barton started like an awkward fawn trying to stand for the first time but morphed into a leaping leopard once he got into the rhythm of the game. He showed New York a little one-on-one action when his teammates were struggling to score. They weren't the highest percentage looks but he made them anyway. He shot 3-4 for 7 points and 4 rebounds in 10 minutes. Nights like this give you hope and anticipation for him.

Eric Maynor's performance was on-again, off-again. He had one brilliant drive when the Blazers needed to re-focus inside. He also hit a couple of open shots. At first he was forcing, though, and he only managed 2 assists to go along with 8 points in his 19 minutes. Again it's a question of which the Blazers need more off the bench: scoring or running the offense? Maynor does a little of both but he favors scoring at this point.

Meyers Leonard...uff da.

The Detroit Pistons come into town on Saturday, giving the Blazers a chance at a mini-winning-streak before the schedule turns really vicious. What? You thought it was vicious already? After Detroit 88% of Portland's remaining games feature playoff-level opponents.

Boxscore (For those interested, Lillard outscored his starting counterpart 26-11, fired 61% to the opponent's 33%, and dished 10 assists against 3.)

Timmay's Instant Recap

Posting and Toasting will take care of the New York view.

Portland Trail Blazers tickets


--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)
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