The Portland Trail Blazers have had their ups and downs this season, but at the end of the day there’s no doubt that they are an NBA-caliber team. The New York Knicks, on the other hand, could easily have been mistaken for their D-League counterparts from Westchester tonight. The result: A relatively straightforward 110-95 Portland victory.
The Knicks defenders were about as effective as NFL tackling dummies in the first half. The Blazers took full advantage, scoring easily with the first option in their offense on nearly every possession. Damian Lillard was left open for 3-pointers coming off screens, Jusuf Nurkic was able to establish very deep post position early in the shot clock, and cutters were repeatedly ignored.
The Blazers turned the offensive opportunities into high-efficiency scoring. They netted 67 points on 58 percent shooting (25-for-43) for the half and looked nearly unstoppable. Lillard had 19 and Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe, and Evan Turner all had 8 or more points.
The Knicks, on the other hand, struggled to find offensive coherence against even token Blazer defense. Much has been made of the team’s struggles with the triangle offense, and those problems were abundantly clear tonight. New York failed to create open looks from anywhere on the court and were content to hoist inefficient mid-rangers jumpers - the antithesis of good offense by modern NBA standards. They trailed by 21 after finishing the half with 46 points on 17-for-48 shooting.
Theoretically, the Blazers should have bulldozed this cheap, knock-off version of the Knicks in the second half and cruised to an easy victory. Instead, they almost inexplicably allowed the pace of the game to grind to a near halt. After running the base offense to near perfection against the lifeless Knicks D in the first half, the Blazers became content to aimlessly pass around the perimeter for 20 seconds and then let Aminu force a shot against the clock.
The Knicks didn’t necessarily improve, per se, but they hit enough shots and scored enough scramble baskets to take advantage of Portland’s complacency. New York had cut the lead to 10, 100-90, with 3:42 to go. But Lillard was not about to let a home win against the Knicks’ JV team slip away. He responded with a remarkably acrobatic lay-up over Kristaps Porzingis to put the Blazers up 12.
Normal humans cannot do this. pic.twitter.com/gm8HFxV7dp— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) March 24, 2017
On the other end the Blazers got a quick poke away, which lead to a McCollum triple in transition. All-of-a-sudden the lead had expanded to 105-90 and the Knicks called timeout with 2:59 to go. Lillard didn’t relent and scored five more points coming out of the timeout to put the Blazers up 20. The Knicks called timeout to pull their “starters,” and the game was functionally over. Blazers win 110-95.
Lillard finished with a game-high 30 points and 5 assists. Nurkic out-physicaled New York’s relatively lithe frontcourt to the tune of 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The Knicks, playing without Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, or Lance Thomas, got 18 points and 9 rebounds from Porzingis.
It’s not hard to figure out how the Blazers won tonight: 1) The Knicks failed at even the most basic defensive fundamentals, and 2) The New York offense was disorganized, at best, or hopelessly outdated, at worst.
Here’s a sampling of the very obvious defensive errors the Knicks made on consecutive possessions in the first quarter:
9:06: Maurice Harkless posts up on low block. Lillard trots slowly through the lane, which causes the Knicks to lose track of Nurkic. Easy dunk.
8:35: Harkless cuts to the elbow with Nurkic at the top of the key. Harkless cuts back inside and none of the Knicks follow him into the paint. Easy assist for Nurkic.
8:06: Lillard and Nurkic run the most basic give and go. The Knicks are helpless to stop it.
And those plays don’t even touch on how often Lillard was left wide open to rain down 3-pointers (4-for-7). The Knicks repeatedly lost Lillard in transition, or allowed the big man to drop way back on pick and rolls. Just inexcusable blunders for an NBA team to make at this point in the season.
Offensively, the Knicks didn’t look much better. As noted above, they kinda sorta run the notoriously difficult triangle offense. Except they don’t really have the personnel to fully implement it. And, to make matters worse, the triangle often results in inefficient mid-range jumpers that nearly every other NBA team avoids at all costs. Consequently, they have difficulty finding easy offense (lay-ups or open 3s).
Just looking at the game’s shot chart and comparing where the teams get their shots illustrates how much the Knicks struggle to score efficiently. Specifically, focus on the “long 2s” (i.e. attempts that are outside the paint, but inside the 3-point line):
To quantify it: The Knicks attempted twice as many 2-pointers outside the paint as the Blazers (28 vs. 14). Not a winning strategy.
With four of their players missing tonight, it’s barely a joke to say that the Knicks were one Porzingis ejection away from the D-League. With that in mind, the Blazers probably deserve some criticism for not winning this game more easily - ideally the starters would have watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench tonight.
But the goalposts on this season moved forward about 40 games ago, so we are way past style points for the 2016-17 Blazers. They picked up a relatively painless home win against a clearly inferior opponent and moved a half game closer to the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff spot. Good enough.
Damian Lillard probably yawned his way to 30 points tonight.
CJ McCollum picked up the best assist of the night (courtesy of more brain-dead defense):
Noah Vonleh had only 4 points but snagged 12 rebounds. Several of those were in traffic as the Knicks big men seemed to forget that, you know, they actually should try to grab the ball.
Maurice Harkless picked up some fouls and played only 18 minutes. His activity should have yielded more tonight - the Knicks had no interest in chasing him.
Jusuf Nurkic is a lot bigger than the Knicks’ players. He used that heft to establish very low post position very early in the clock. Not a great recipe for the defense.
Al-Farouq Aminu banked in an absurd 3-pointer.
Evan Turner had 10 points and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes. This was a good game for him to start to get back on track.
Eric Griffith | GoBlazers87@gmail.com | @EricG_NBA