Well, this was the kind of night we half-expected, half-feared coming off of the events of the weekend and the resulting short-handed roster. The Blazers didn't play a terrible game, just listless at some points. They did a decent job attacking where they needed to but the Knicks knew exactly where the Blazers needed to attack too and threw the house at the Blazers' best players. The supporting cast was a mixed bag. That's been OK so far this season as Portland has had enough players to compensate. But with only 9 players remaining pretty much everybody has to be spot on in order for the team to succeed. That didn't happen tonight, thus the loss.
The first quarter news wasn't all bad, as the Blazers actually did many of the things they needed to do in order to succeed against the Knicks. They penetrated on offense. They grabbed offensive rebounds while denying the same to the Knicks. They did an excellent job of keeping New York on the perimeter when the Knicks were on offense. As a result New York scored only 18 in the period. Unfortunately the Blazers had trouble finishing at the rim and escaped with only 18 themselves. Still, it looked promising. It appeared the Blazers could hang close and then maybe pull it out at the finish.
Then came the second period. The offense wasn't that much better for the Blazers. They had decent movement in the halfcourt but New York still had time to set up and overload Portland's biggest threats. This was made easier because Roy and Aldridge got breaks in the period. With only one of them on the floor the Knicks had a pretty good idea who to stop. Each star missed shots and committed turnovers under the extra pressure. They pretty much had to option off to their teammates. The offense ended up looking like the typical bad Portland day: a couple passes followed by somebody creating one-on-one. Offensive rebounds dried up as well, taking away extra opportunities. Portland ended up with 20 for the quarter. Another side effect of the thin bench was the Blazers being forced to go with three guards. Too often those taller, scoring Knicks forwards ended up with a backcourt player on them. To their credit the Knicks moved the ball well. Worst of all, New York was also hitting its threes. After a couple of those went down early in the period the Blazers all but threw their hands up. There were too many places to scramble. The Knicks scored 31 in the period and left the floor up 11.
So many times this year we've seen Portland come out with a strong surge at the beginning of the third, serving notice that they intended to take the game. That surge was all but absent tonight. It looked like the final minute in a half, not the opening minutes of the second half of a game that needed to be taken. The offense was scattered. The defense remained listless, encouraging the Knicks to score up close. Unfortunately they also kept scoring from distance. The Blazers were caught between in no-man's land. The one bit of "oomph" in the quarter came late when Portland started forcing some turnovers and running out but even the break was shaky tonight and frankly New York profited from a faster tempo as much as Portland did. 29-17 Knicks for the period and the game was pretty much done.
The Blazers did make a serious run in the fourth, at one point cutting the 20+ point lead down to single digits. The defense clicked, the rebounding was strong, and the Blazers kept forcing turnovers...this time converting them. It looked like the Knicks had fallen asleep early. But as Steve Jones used to say, everything has to go perfectly to make a comeback like that. The deficit was so big that perfection couldn't be sustained that long. A three at the 6:00 mark and a conventional three-point play off of a layup off a turnover right afterwards sealed the deal. Jerryd Bayless had been a huge part of the comeback but the turnover in question was his. Whether related or not, he went to the bench immediately thereafter and the spark never returned. The Knicks win by 9 in a game that wasn't that close.
Portland did a decent job in a couple areas. They shot 47% on the night and most of the shots came from Aldridge and Roy. That was smart. To their credit they did not attempt many threes against the Knicks, who have problems defending easier shots. Unfortunately the Blazers missed 7 of the 8 threes they did attempt, allowing New York to pack it in with impunity and putting Portland behind the 8-ball in point generation. The Blazers stayed even at the foul line. However they allowed the Knicks too many offensive rebounds. They also suffered in the continuity stats: assists and turnovers. The turnovers in particular killed the Blazers' chances. It looked like everybody was in an unfamiliar situation. The connectivity just wasn't there. Playing with nine guys is bad enough but when the nine guys aren't comfortable together it's a killer.
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Brandon Roy did what he could to keep the team afloat offensively. He mixed up his game pretty well, penetrating for layups or pull-ups and drawing fouls (9-10 from the line). He missed all four of this threes though and he was Captain Turnover with 5. To be fair he saw a minimum of two Knicks every time he put the ball on the floor, sometimes three. He scored 27 but it wasn't a brilliant 27...more of a necessary 27 really. But it wasn't enough.
LaMarcus Aldridge had a rough start to the game, a luxury the team can no longer afford. He got right again by rebounding and then poured on the scoring late. He got 19 points and 13 rebounds but, like Roy, he looked isolated out there. At no time did he seem dominant on either end, so the isolation wasn't even a mixed blessing. Not a bad game, but we need more.
Jerryd Bayless provided a really nice spark tonight. He had energy and used it. In 17 minutes he shot 4-5, 6-7 from the free throw line, hit his jumpers, moved his feet on defense, and even got a couple assists. Then again the one-on-one style we devolved into favors him. In fact my suggestion is that if we're going to employ that style we just get Jerryd 20 shots and call it good. He knows what he's doing. Even if that were to happen I have a hard time envisioning the Blazers winning without better teamwork. But Jerryd is a weapon with the ball in his hands and his whole game lifts when he can score it.
Joel Pryzbilla played 32 minutes with only 2 personal fouls. Some of that was the opponent, as the Knick bigs don't play the kind of offense that draws fouls. Part of it is also the refs knowing our changed situation, I'm sure. It's ironic that now that the Blazers can't field a dominant center tandem the whistles are going to ease up, but I bet that's exactly what happens. I'm OK with it, I guess, but I wish the whistles would have eased when it would have done more good. Joel had 8 rebounds and 4 points but also had 3 turnovers and wasn't able to keep a defender near enough ease the pressure off of his teammates.
Martell Webster didn't have much of an offensive night. He went 1-6 for 3 points in 23 minutes. Portland can't afford that. Portland can't afford half of that right now. I didn't notice him on the defensive end much which probably means he wasn't bad but wasn't great either. It was just kind of a disappearing game for him. Memo: We need you. Badly.
Steve Blake played 38 minutes and managed a good all-around game. He was the other guy who brought consistent energy. 4-8, 9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 turnovers. Blake can do that. It's just needing that much Blake that worries me.
Andre Miller played 26 minutes and looked out of synch also. He had as many turnovers as points (4 each). His offense was basically his offense. It wasn't his best showing.
Dante Cunningham did OK, hitting both of his shots, manning up tight on defense, trying hard. 11 minutes, 4 points, 2 rebounds. I liked the effort, especially defensively.
Juwan Howard had 3 rebounds in 8 fourth-quarter minutes.
It's a mark of how much the weekend took out of me that I'm not upset about this game. Had the roster been complete I'm pretty sure I'd be furious right now. But it feels like 2007-08 already. I don't know quite what to think, other than it seems possible that the Blazers could go on quite a losing streak in the near future. They're definitely going to have to get it together or the month will be atrocious. They did the technical things right but the emotion, trust, and continuity were missing. That's just not enough. But we can't find those things for them. It's up to them to figure it out.
Check out the Knicks reaction at PostingandToasting.
See the Jersey Contest scoreboard here and enter Wednesday's form over here. Maybe site veterans can give us a primer on what it's like to war between common sense and homerism when playing for a jersey. Haven't had to wage that battle in a while...