The nightmarish end to 2019 only worsened with the new year as the Portland Trail Blazers lost to the New York Knicks — yes, the New York Knicks — by a score of 117-93. It marks Portland’s fifth straight loss, three of which were to non-playoff teams. The losing streak has made the Blazers a non-playoff team as well; after tonight, they sit a 1.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs for eighth in the West.
Carmelo Anthony’s return to Madison Square Garden
Carmelo Anthony returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2017; the last time he suited up there, it was as a Knick. In dramatic fashion, he recorded a game- and season-high 26 points on 11/17 shooting and three triples. His scoring came from its usual sources: post ups and the occasional catch-and-shoot three-pointer.
As the other Blazers starters struggled to knock down jumpers, the offense started running through Anthony during the second and third quarter. He fueled an 8-0 run during the third to tie the game, but as his shot stopped falling, Portland lost handle on the game. After starting 9/12 and making all sorts of contested, double-clutched shots, his hot hand faded and just two of the next five attempts hit the bottom of the net.
Knicks fans loved the team’s third-straight victory, but they also loved watching Melo hoop again. In the final minutes of the blowout, a chant of “We want Melo!” rang throughout The Garden.
Anthony Tolliver earning his minutes
Anthony Tolliver fell out of Terry Stotts’ rotation because of a rough start to the season, but the injury to Skal Labissiere brought the journeyman back into the fold. Although he only finished with three points and four rebounds on 1/3 shooting, Tolliver provided several intangibles the Blazers desperately need right now.
As the offense continues to struggle to move the ball, Tolliver made smart passes to find his teammates in scoring positions. Stuck without his dribble at the elbow, the veteran patiently scanned the floor and found Hassan Whiteside in the post directly under the hoop for an easy finish.
Defensively, he maintained strong footing against the Knicks’ litany of power forwards trying to get a bucket in the post. He stuck with Julius Randle on a couple occasions, which is no easy feat as Randle loves to charge into the lane and search for contact. His one drawback on the defensive end was poor closeouts.
Rebounding and size problems persist
The Knicks lead the league in offensive rebounds with 12 per game. Tonight, they only grabbed nine, but they also shot 5% better than their season average and therefore didn’t need to crash the offensive glass as much. Those nine still hurt the Blazers chances to recover the lead when the game was still tight during the second and third quarter.
Mitchell Robinson — who collected four of the nine offensive boards — came off the bench and exposed Portland’s void at the backup center position. He scored 22 points on a perfect 11/11 shooting — all 11 of those makes were right at the rim. Anthony, Tolliver and Nassir Little defender him for a majority of the game, and none of those three are taller than 6-foot-8. Robinson is 7-foot-1 and has crazy hops.
New York’s other front court players took advantage of their size to get easy buckets as well. Marcus Morris Sr. repeatedly bullied Kent Bazemore in the post and contributed to the Knicks’ big run in the late-third and early-fourth quarter.
Damian Lillard shooting struggles
Damian Lillard’s bread and butter shot is a pull up triple after hustling around a high screen from Whiteside. New York’s big men sagged in their coverage of the pick and roll tonight, providing Lillard with the perfect opportunity to knock this automatic shot down. Despite the optimal environment, he was cold from three — from anywhere on the court, actually. Lillard finished with 11 points on 5/20 shooting and 1/8 from three. He attempted at least three of those pull up triples and missed them all.
When the All-Star guard isn’t converting his open looks, and CJ McCollum can’t buy a bucket either — he finished 6/16 — the Blazers will have a hard time winning no matter who the opponent is. Unfortunately, the bad night came in a winnable matchup against the New York Knicks.
The Blazers head to the second stop of their five-game road trip: the Washington Wizards on Friday, Jan. 3.