On a night in which Damian Lillard made history, once again climbing the NBA’s all-time scoring list, another collapse by the Portland Trail Blazers ensured that it couldn’t be properly celebrated.
Leading at one point by 16, the Blazers again had one too many droughts and not enough defensive stops, watching as the New York Knicks flipped the script in the second half on the way to a 123-107 win. Tuesday marked the 16th time — an NBA high — in which the Blazers lost a game after having a double-digit lead.
Lillard’s individual play proved to the high-water mark, as he tallied up 38 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and eight three-pointers. It wouldn’t be enough, though, as the Knicks had three different players score 20+, and six players in double-figures.
The loss drops the Blazers to 31-38, and now three games out of the Play-In Spot with 13 to go. If you haven’t already, take a look at Dave Deckard’s instant recap. Below are also a few observations from the loss:
From Trail Blazing to Trailing:
You’d have been forgiven if you were unconvinced by the Blazers’ red-hot first quarter. Within seven minutes of Tuesday’s game, Portland shot out of a cannon offensively, jumping out to a 15-point lead.
If only NBA games were seven minutes long. If only. Following the cue of many of the Blazers’ opponents this season, the Knicks emerged from the locker rooms after halftime ready to put adjustments in place, and before long, they were able to turn that 15-point deficit into a 15-point lead.
Two trends immediately stood out: after bending to Damian Lillard and the Blazers’ will in the pick-and-roll in the first half, New York’s ball screen defense was much more aggressive in the second half, seeking to make life more difficult for Portland’s ball handlers. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that the Knicks’ 3-point shooters — namely Miles McBride, Obi Toppin, and Immanuel Quickley — put on their best Splash Brothers impression in the second half, putting leather to the net whenever they had just a sliver of airspace.
Third quarters continue to tell the story of the Blazers’ demise over this recent stretch. Failing to adjust, they were a minus-18.0 (third-worst in the NBA) over the six-game road trip, and those struggles stayed in their suitcases as they returned home; the Knicks won tonight’s third quarter 42-26.
More History for No. 0:
Win, lose or draw, it’s become almost a foregone conclusion that Damian Lillard is going to be at peak offensive productivity. The No. 1 scorer over the calendar year, Lillard needed only three points to pass Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier for the No. 59 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
For a while, it appeared as though his record-clinching night might also include a win. The Knicks, who entered tonight’s game sixth-worst in terms of defending pick-and-roll ball handlers, struggled to figure out if they wanted to “show” hard on Lillard, putting him in the facilitator role, or merely living with the results of him punishing the defense himself. In the first half, it felt as though every Blazers score came off of a screen-and-roll.
If there were any flaws in his game tonight, it might’ve been that he, just like the rest of the Blazers, struggled in that restricted area. At one point, it had become so noticeable that even Cory Jez made mention of how they — during a time in the second quarter — were shooting just 38 percent in that area. In totality though, Lillard was solid as usual, leading a Portland offense that’s short on answers at this time.
A Look at Old Friends:
On a night in which the current Blazers couldn’t find the bottom of the net, it was perhaps poetic that ex-Blazer Josh Hart certainly could.
In the wake of the Feb. 8 trade between the Knicks and Blazers, the subplot surrounding Hart and Cam Reddish felt as though it would be one to watch. Showing respect to his always-noticeable effort, the Moda Center crowd gave Hart a positive reception upon checking into Tuesday’s game, and he kept the highlights coming, nearly putting up a triple-double off the bench. The final line: 16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two 3-pointers. And, of course, the countless acts of dribbling coast-to-coast after a rebound.
On the Blazers’ side, Reddish, who had been finding his way as a consistent rotation piece in Portland, didn’t offer much in tonight’s game against his old teammates. The shot selection was spotty, as the 1-of-6 box score line will show. If there’s one statistic that helped tell that story, it would be this one:
The Blazers’ second unit played seven different players tonight. They combined for 12 points. Hart outscored them by his lonesome, and still had two other fellow bench contributors offer up double-digit outputs. The end result? The Knicks’ bench, 45; Blazers’ bench, 12.
— The fast break points battle helped tell the story of this game. Portland was in full-on track star mode in the first quarter with 12 transition points, tied for the most in any first quarter this season. At one point, they led it 12-0. Like everything else, by the end of the game, New York had pulled ahead, winning that one 18-16. Both teams were tasked with deciding if they would attack the glass or get back in transition; on this night, the Knicks made more adjustments.
— It marked yet another successful outing for Matisse Thybulle, particularly out on the perimeter. Teams continue to show little fear — at least in comparison to the alternative, which would be letting Lillard have his way — but the results speak for themselves. Thybulle came into tonight shooting 37.2 percent deep, and he shot 40 percent tonight. Though, he cooled considerably after a hot first quarter.
Life doesn’t get much easier for the Blazers’ fledgling postseason hopes. Next is a date with the NBA’s second-winningest team in the Boston Celtics (47-22) on Thursday, Mar. 16 at 7:00 pm PT.