The Trail Blazers ended their unscheduled hiatus with a 116-113 victory over the Knicks on Sunday. Led by Damian Lillard’s 39 points, the Blazers raced out to a double-digit lead that they would maintain until the final quarter. In the second half, thanks to a solid performance from rookie guard Immanuel Quickley, the Knicks got within a single possession in the final moments of the game.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Blazers did just enough outlast the Knicks for the win. Here is a second look at Portland’s ninth victory of the season.
The Blazers looked smooth on both ends of the floor from the opening tip. Defensively, Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington spearheaded an aggressive zone defense that kept the Knicks’ offense off balance. Offensively, the Blazers fired on all cylinders. Lillard got to all his favorite spots and connected on all his shots from the field. In transition, Jones feasted on New York’s mistakes with solid finishes in the paint.
Lillard and Jones combined for 25 points in the opening frame and neither player missed a field goal in the process. Fueled by their hot shooting, the Blazers finished the first quarter with a 37-24 advantage.
Anfernee Simons picked up right where Lillard left off to start the second quarter. Working off screens and step-back looks, the third-year guard torched the Knicks’ lagging perimeter defense. Following a flurry of three-pointers, the Blazers pushed their lead to 20 points just before the eight-minute mark in the quarter. For the Knicks, rookie guard Immanuel Quickley was the only player on New York’s squad that found consistent success against Portland’s zone scheme. Quickley recorded 10 points on six shots in the second quarter.
Thanks to Simons’ hot shooting, Lillard was not forced to return from the bench until late in the quarter. Once he returned, he formed a potent one-two punch with Simons out of the backcourt. A late burst of offense from Julius Randle kept the game from getting completely out of hand, but the Blazers still managed to claim a sturdy 20-point lead at halftime.
The halftime break could not have come at worse time for the hot-shooting Blazers. After the break, Portland’s free-flowing three-point offense slowed to a snail’s pace. Lillard, who did not miss a field goal in the first half, finally missed his first shot after almost five minutes of action in the third quarter. The Knicks, who fell behind by 25 at one point, clawed back into the game by stringing together modest runs that coincided with gritty defense.
The Blazers connected on just two of their 13 three-point attempts in the third quarter. Due to their poor shooting, the Knicks finished the third quarter down by just 12 points.
The Blazers’ slide in the wrong direction continued in the fourth quarter. Portland’s shooting struggles were compounded by Quickley’s re-emergence off the Knicks’ bench. New York’s rookie could not miss and he often put the Blazers’ defense on skates in the process. Thanks to Quickley and a handful of well-timed defensive stops, the Knicks managed to cut Portland’s lead to single digits. Ahead by just five points with seven minutes remaining, the Blazers re-grouped with a much-needed timeout. Once the action resumed, coach Terry Stotts’ squad completed an 8-0 run that returned the lead to double digits.
The Knicks would not go quietly, though. Facing double teams at halfcourt, Lillard was forced to give up the ball early in possessions. The results were not pretty. The Knicks feasted on turnovers and generated points in bunches. In the final two minutes featured lightning-quick possessions from New York and free throw attempts from Portland. In the end, the Blazers did just enough to escape with a 116-113 victory.
Check Out That Brand New Zone
It looks like the lion’s share of the Blazers’ unplanned hiatus was spent on re-tooling their defensive approach. With Jones acting as the tip of the spear, Portland’s defense was disruptive and effective against New York for three quarters. Players off the ball rotated with purpose and penetration—outside of the time Quickley was on the floor—was halted.
In the first half, the Knicks committed nine turnovers and connected on a pedestrian 45 percent of their field goal attempts. After a wild 14 games to start the year, the Blazers can live with pedestrian.
For the second time in the 2020-21 season, the Blazers nearly botched a 20-point lead to a not-yet-established Eastern Conference opponent. Once Portland’s three-point shooting cooled off, the entire offense froze. Crisp off-ball movements disappeared, turnovers popped up and the defense faltered on the opposite end. Robert Covington and Carmelo Anthony, two of the Blazers’ top three forwards, combined for four field goals and 54 minutes.
In the end, clutch free throw shooting allowed the Blazers to hold on.
Lillard Moves Up
Damian Lillard passed Chauncey Billups on the NBA’s all-time three-pointers made list. His steady work from the free throw line also earned him the Blazers’ franchise record for consecutive free throws made.
The Blazers wrap up their current homestand on Monday with a matchup against the Thunder.