Usually when we describe a game as "A Tale of Two Halves" we mean the Trail Blazers struggled in the first half but turned around the game magnificently in the second, cruising to a glorious win. Tonight's contest between the Blazers and the New York Knicks was indeed A Tale of Two Halves and the Blazers did net the win. Unfortunately for Blazers fans the turn-around was nowhere near magnificent and the proper response to the victory trended more towards "Whew!" than "YES!"
The scoreboard didn't show anything too unusual at halftime. Portland led 47-46, a low score but a lead...not too shabby for a road game. But the tally didn't reveal that quietly, under the radar, the Blazers had played one of the poorer halves of their season. The Knicks do exactly two things on offense: pass to Carmelo Anthony and shoot jumpers. If they're doing anything besides that you're defending them wrong. And the Blazers were defending them wrong. The Knicks scored on the break and in the paint. They're dead last in the entire league in both categories...a distant last. That the Blazers turned over the ball as well was less surprising--the Knicks' defense can manage that much--but those points added injury to insult. Portland got no offensive rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge got few clean looks and his shooters couldn't clear space for him with buckets. Portland's bench was worse that putrid on both ends. Wesley Matthews scoring was the only bright spot in a half that had all the hallmarks of an impending collapse. Fortunately for Portland the Knicks are...well...not very good. Or at least they're not very coordinated offensively. They did a decent job defending and performed well on the boards but couldn't generate enough offense to make the Blazers pay for their mistakes.
The second half was no great shakes, really. But the Blazers did get back to Portland basketball a little. Robin Lopez made his presence felt on the offensive glass. The Blazers got back on defense and crowded the paint so the Knicks couldn't get inside. The ball actually moved on Portland's end...and not just into the hands of waiting Knicks defenders. We saw a couple of three-pass court reversals for corner threes, a staple of Portland's pre-Christmas offense but a scarce commodity since. In the fourth period Aldridge started hitting, icing the game down the stretch with his jumper. Even the bench passed well and played smarter offensively. New York made a monster run off of Portland turnovers at the top of the fourth period and a smaller one off of a couple made threes at the end of the game, but the Blazers kept the margin intact and, for the most part, beyond a single possession. Portland walked away with the win, 94-90.
You can get the flavor of this game by looking at the field goal percentages for both teams: Portland 38%, New York 40%. This was hardly a thriller. Both teams contested but both teams also missed open shots. The Blazers built their edge in familiar fashion. They shot 8-21, 38%, from the arc against 4-21, 19% for the Knicks. That shouldn't be overlooked, as Portland's margin on threes has been slim or non-existent recently. The Blazers also drew more foul shots than New York, 33-20. Portland ended up +12 at the line. After almost zeroing out the first half in offensive rebounds Portland posted a massive second, finishing the game with 12. Once the Knicks had to guard Aldridge plus three-point shooters the space under the basket opened up. New York had 15 offensive rebounds themselves, though. Portland also stopped the leak in transition, leaving New York with only 7 points for the game, a total which the Blazers matched. Points in the paint went to New York, 30-20. The concerted lane attack that we've seen from the Blazers over the last couple weeks was not in evidence tonight, replaced by jumpers and getting fouled.
The Blazers did do a reasonably good job of guarding Carmelo Anthony. He scored 26 but took 28 shots to get there. Both star forwards--Anthony and Aldridge--had moments but they looked like they were playing in slow-motion much of the game. Both feasted on jumpers. When they did take the ball inside Anthony's need to hook in order to get free and Aldridge's corresponding need to push off with the forearm were on full display. The matchup between the headliners ended up evoking the question, "Why should we watch you guys again?" Then again, that could have described the whole game. Both teams have had better outings. Funnily enough, the national broadcast on ESPN followed suit with announcers making frequent mistakes and making odd observations. Apparently it wasn't a fun night for anybody. But the "W" still goes in Portland's column.
The Knicks double-teamed LaMarcus Aldridge early and often but we've seldom seen Aldridge respond to that pressure as poorly as he did in the first half. He attempted covered shots outside of his range and rushed all of his open shots, creating a symphony of clangs on the iron that would have done any blacksmith proud. The floor spreading in the second half allowed him to recover his composure and he was steadier through the latter stages of the game, hitting a jumper with 35 seconds left to push Portland's lead to 4 and force the Knicks into hurry-up mode. Aldridge finished the game with 15 points on 5-17 shooting but, as is typical of him this season, he also posted 5 assists and 12 rebounds.
Damian Lillard's most striking plays in this game were turnovers. He only committed 4 but they were enough to make you question his passing ability. He shot 4-12, 1-6 from distance, attempted only 5 free throws, and finished the game with 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists...not his best evening.
Nicolas Batum had a busy night, probably the best of any Trail Blazer. He guarded point guards and the occasional wing as Portland switched up defensive looks but the Blazers didn't have him take the main responsibility for Anthony. He responded with 20 points on 9-14 shooting, 2-5 from beyond the arc, 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 turnovers. It was the clearest Batum sighting in a long time.
Wesley Matthews was the bright spot in the first half, hit a trio of triples, and tried to make life harder on Anthony...succeeding a few times. 6-15, 3-6 from distance for 18 points plus 7 rebounds. Here's the asterisk, though. Matthews' best shots always come on catch-and-shoots. He was shooting, and hitting, plenty of other kinds of shots in that nice first half. But I can almost guarantee that the opponent doesn't really mind that no matter how much Matthews scores because:
A. Many nights he's going to miss those shots. And more importantly...
B. Those plays do nothing to move the defense or break containment. The opponent can guard Wes off the dribble with one man, keeping tight coverage on everyone else. As many shots as Matthews hit, New York never budged. Catch-and-shoot threes off of ball movement makes them move.
The Knicks took Robin Lopez out of the game entirely in the first half. They're a jump-shooting team to begin with. When they did enter the lane it was either in transition (when he was far behind) or after having moved him. Tyson Chandler moved him around when they were matched up. Mostly the Knicks left a small guy to watch Lopez on defense, saving their big men for Aldridge. Lopez couldn't make them pay on his own and the Blazers couldn't move the ball to him in order to help. Robin came roaring back in the second half with those rebounds, 5 offensive boards providing his stat of the night. Also important, Lopez went 7-8 from the foul line after having spent much of the game committing more fouls than he drew. 9 points on 1-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 turnovers, 4 fouls.
10 points looks good on Mo Williams' stat line, especially with the bench starved for scoring (and managing only 20 tonight total). But Mo's opening shift was among the worst we've seen from any experienced player on the team this year. Turnovers, forced shots...ugliness abounded. Mo benefited as much as anyone from the spread floor in the second half. Finally he found space to get up shots and even hit a defense-stretching three of his own. He shot 2-7 with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers in 20 minutes.
Joel Freeland played 14 minutes with 3 rebounds and 2 personal fouls...not his best showing but not his worst. The Knicks go smaller than most and weren't able to exploit him.
Tonight's game saw two rotation returnees. Dorell Wright got the call to defend Anthony and stroke the long ball. He didn't do either that well but "not well" is better than some of his bench mates so it's probably a wash. He shot 1-4, 1-3 on triples, and scored 6 points with 2 assists, 2 fouls, and a steal in 13 minutes. C.J. McCollum did not play tonight.
Meyers Leonard also poked his head out for 9 minutes. Unfortunately he got scared and retreated to his comfortable bench home which means 6 more weeks of really bad defense from him. 3 personal fouls, a turnover, a rebound, and a bucket for him in those 9 minutes. Thomas Robinson did not play tonight.
Judge for yourself whether rotating in the semi-effective Wright for the semi-effective McCollum and the non-effective Leonard for the only-occasionally-effective Robinson is a smart move or just exchanging one kind of "doesn't work" for another.
Now...the "W" is in the column but the gloves come off with games against Indiana and Minnesota over the weekend. The great thing about this game is that it makes a win in one of those other two cities count more instead of just making up for the game the Blazers threw away here. That's the value of winning, ugly or not.
That said, if the Blazers don't shake off some of this ugly, winning in either place seems like a stretch.
Boxscore (Might just as well skip it and count the final score only.)
Timmay's Instant Recap and List of Famous People who Lit Up Our Gameday Thread (#internetpopularityrules)
Posting and Toasting will wonder why neither of those things happened much tonight.
Your Jersey Contest scores and the form for Friday's game can be found HERE. Answers for tonight: Anthony scores 26, Portland's bench scores 20, Aldridge gets the most rebounds per minute, and the Knicks field the leading scorer.
Be sure to follow the hilarity at Dave's Twitter account @DaveDeckard and keep up with everything at the site @Blazersedge Also make sure to check out the new VideoCast, now formatted shorter and coming at you more frequently! This edition will also clue you in on some of the concerns we saw tonight and some of the ways the Blazers relieved them in the final two quarters.
If you're going to buy and donate tickets for Blazer's Edge Night, sending underprivileged kids to a Blazer game in March, you'd better do so soon or your opportunity will be...gone. Details are HERE, including how to donate and make the year better for someone in need.