Fresh off a 2-2 road trip, the Portland Trail Blazers finally returned to the Moda Center Saturday to host the New York Knicks along with a couple familiar faces.
Former Blazers Robin Lopez and Arron Affalo made their return to the Rip City and both had a sizable impact on the game.
Before the contest, much attention was given to Knicks rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, who has drawn comparisons as lofty as future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki. Fans in attendance to see the young phenom would be disappointed, however, as he suffered through perhaps his worst game in his young career with zero points and three rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
The Blazers were lead by Damian Lillard (29 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists), CJ McCollum (22 points, 3 rebounds) and Allen Crabbe (17 points). The Knicks were led by Carmelo Anthony's big night (37 points, 6 rebounds) and Affalo (15 points).
McCollum picked up right where he left off Friday, scoring seven points in part of a 16-9 run to start the game.
Noah Vonleh was aggressive defensively against Porzingis, holding the 19-year-old Latvian both scoreless and rebound-less in the opening period, and grabbing several key offensive rebounds which fueled Portland's run.
Porzingis, whom already boasts an impressive resume of spectacular put-back dunks of his own, found himself on the wrong end of the highlight reel when Lillard skied above him to gather Crabbe's missed three and throw down a massive two-handed dunk to put the Blazers ahead 24-13.
The Knicks were kept afloat by Anthony, who scored eight points in the opening period and appeared to be actively engaged to break himself out of a recent shooting funk which has seen him post his worst scoring numbers in the All-Star's 12-year career.
End of First: Portland 29, New York 21
Offense started to slow down to New York's pace as the Knicks' second unit suddenly dominated the game. Meyers Leonard struggled from the field, missing his first three shots while Kyle O'Quinn and Derrick Williams led the charge for the away team as they pulled within one on Langston Galloway's three.
While the Blazer bench has been a bright spot as of late it didn't much look it in the first half, shooting only 5-15 and losing much of the advantaged gained earlier by the starters. Portland had to go back to its Top Dogs of McCollum and Lillard to right the ship.
Coach Terry Stotts opted to match New York's smaller lineup, inserting Gerald Henderson and sliding Al-Farouq Aminu to the four. The decision was effective on offense, with Henderson closing the quarter with seven straight points, but also left Portland vulnerable at the other end.
Anthony continued his resurgence, heading to the locker room with 20.
Half Time: Portland 56, New York 55
Melo kept being Melo and gave New York its first lead of night two minutes into the third on a transition three. Lopez lumbered his way to a few scrappy inside buckets, which elicited some groans from the Moda Center crowd who had grown to love the eccentric center's old-school game during his two years with the Blazers.
Vonleh turned in another solid shift, again holding Porzingis scoreless, doing damage on the boards and draining a corner three in front of a taunting Knicks bench.
Crabbe forced his way to the free throw line and continued to be a menace for New York. His confidence is really showing as he distances himself as Portland's best offensive reserve. His foul shots at the end of the quarter gave back a double-digit lead heading into the fourth.
End of Third: Portland 86, New York 76
The Knicks closed the gap in a hurry - Afflalo and Lance Thomas buried back-to-back threes before baskets by Williams and O'Quinn quickly put New York ahead 95-92.
Portland couldn't buy a bucket, going 4/14 over the first six minutes of the final period as it watched its lead evaporate.
Lillard and McColllum went cold at the worst time, and missed shots led to long rebounds, which led to easy transition baskets for an uncharacteristically up-tempo team. Afflalo connected on a corner three and calmly drained two free throws one possession later to put the Knicks ahead 104-98 with just three minutes to go.
Aminu had mostly a quiet night, but came alive down the stretch to hit an open baseline jumper and force an out-of-bounds turnover on Anthony, which gave the Blazers the ball down two with one minute remaining.
Following a timeout, Stotts drew up a nice play which resulted in a running reverse layup attempt for Lillard, which danced on the rim before just falling off. Anthony was given free throws on a controversial blocking foul call at the other end, which just about put the game way.
Lillard just barely missed an incredible opportunity in the closing seconds, as he was fouled shooting a three, down four with two seconds to go. He hit the first two free throws, and then somehow reclaimed his own rebound off of an intentional miss near the three point line - the All-Star managed a decent attempt but the potential game winner bounced just off.
Portland gets a day off and then returns to the Moda Center to take on Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans Monday at 7 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter
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