In an all-too-familiar story, the Portland Trail Blazers built an instant and significant lead against the New York Knicks on Tuesday night, then spent the rest of the game giving it away. A tragic third quarter, a huge free throw disparity, and obnoxious percentages allowed to the opponent conspired to lock the Blazers into a 123-107 loss.
Damian Lillard scored 38 for the Blazers and Anfernee Simons 22, but the two combined for 18-46 shooting. The Knicks were far more efficient as a team, shooting 51.9% from the floor, 42.9% beyond the arc. They also attempted 34 free throws (hitting 24) against only 18 attempts for the Blazers. A 50-34 advantage in the paint was the icing on the paint for New York. So was shooting over 70% in the second half.
Immanuel Quickley led the visitors with 26, while Julius Randle and RJ Barrett added 24 and 22, respectively. Miles “Deuce” McBride provided 18 points off the bench against 12 total for the entire Blazers reserve corps. Josh Hart scored 16 with 9 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 steals returning to face his former team.
The loss drops the Blazers to a 31-38 record for the season. They are now starting to fall behind the pack racing for inclusion in the postseason Play-In Tournament. Portland stands 13th in the Western Conference. They need to climb to tenth to have a shot at the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
The Blazers came out taking no guff from the Knickerbockers, building a defensive wall around the paint and refusing to give an inch to their opponents, neither the frontcourt post players nor the backcourt drivers.
The Knicks snickered at first, ready to shoot over the top from distance. When approximately zero of those shots fell, it wasn’t that funny. When Portland also punched it inside on their own end, courtesy of Jusuf Nurkic and Matisee Thybulle, insult followed injury. When the Blazers started hitting threes too, it got downright gruesome.
The Knicks might have been prospering big-time since the trade-deadline deal that brought them small forward Josh Hart from the Blazers, while Portland languished during that same period. Technicalities like that hardly matter when you’re up 17-6 before Hart even checks in.
Fast play typified Portland’s style. They tried to run off of most defensive rebounds. They stayed away from the offensive glass more than usual, preferring instead to get back in transition.
The technique worked. Portland’s lead went as high as 15 before the second units took over. The Blazers allowed a few too many transition and paint points, but the scoring kept apace. At the end of the first New York was shooting 31.8% from the field, only 1-8 from distance. The Blazers countered with 50% shooting, 5-9 beyond the arc, led by newly-minted combo-scorer Thybulle with 10 points. A 33-20 Portland advantage was the result.Road loss, schmoad loss.
Shaedon Sharpe started off the second with a beautiful three-point make with a defender draped all over him. Unfortunately, the Knicks hit two threes and scored on a breakaway during that same span, no doubt making Head Coach Chauncey Billups feel a sick sense of deja vu. He called a quick timeout with 10:22 remaining in the period and the lead cut to 8, 36-28.
After the timeout, Damian Lillard tried to come to the rescue, penetrating and drawing contact. The free throws weren’t enough to restore the lead, but they kept Portland afloat. Nurkic and Anfernee Simons following suit in the lane did the trick, though. It was Tom Thibodeau’s turn to call timeout at the 6:58 mark, with Portland up 44-33.
The Knicks caught on to a favored technique mid-period. They got the ball to center Isaiah Hartenstein, forcing Portland to shade towards him. Instant passes to the perimeter led to three-point strikes. Fortunately Lillard got hot from distance at the same time, so the margin didn’t decrease significantly. Little by little, though, the visitors started pushing their size advantage. Offensive rebounds, a bit of post play, Julius Randle going to the line...it all added up. With 2:00 remaining, the Knicks had cut the lead to 50-44, uncomfortably close given the near-blowout of the first period.
New York had it down to 3 with 15 seconds remaining when Lillard hit another triple to extend the margin to a half-dozen again. Portland led 55-49 at the half. Randle had 13 points despite shooting just 3-13 from the field. Lillard had 18 shooting 4-11.
The Blazers went to Uh-Oh Land at the start of the third as Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle hit shots in quick succession. Lillard hitting a three and a layup was Portland’s only response amid a flurry of misses. It looked like another Dame vs. The World outing, with all the beauty and perils therein.
Three free throws for Lillard off of another one of those trailing screen plays (followed by a jumper off of his own rebound when he missed the last one) did not disprove the theory, but they did preserve a 64-59 lead for Portland with 8:00 remaining.
The Blazers still did a pretty good job collapsing and defending right at the rim. but the Knicks avoided that by pulling up in the paint, just beyond the outstretched arms of Portland defenders. New York also kept up a healthy rate of foul shots. Portland relying on Dame’s threes kept them off the charity stripe while New York dined constantly.
Again, the Blazers kept afloat, especially when Dame’s shots fell, but they couldn’t escape. When Randle hit an and-one on a lane jumper with 3:54 remaining, the Knicks took their first lead at 75-74.
On the next possession, Lillard hit a beautiful layup, spinning away from one of the suddenly-frequent double teams to give the Blazers the lead back. But dishes to teammates on the two possessions after proved fruitless, as their shots missed. Meanwhile New York got hotter than Gordon Ramsay confronting raw chicken. Miles McBride hit two threes, Immanuel Quickley quickly drained another. Coach Billups called a timeout with 1:08 remaining. his team suddenly trailing by 8, 86-78. A technical foul shot right after made it 9.
No immediate comeback was forthcoming. The Knicks led 91-81 after three. Quickley scored 14, parading his team to a 42-26 quarter. Portland shot 3-11 from distance in the period, a bad sign.
When McBride hit a chip shot and a three in the first 55 seconds of the fourth, Coach Billups called his third “OMG” timeout of the game. At that point the Blazers trailed 96-81, inverting the 15-point lead they had in the first.
Lillard hit a three on the next possession, throwing yet another life ring to his teammates. Giving up an offensive rebound and a turnover in quick succession nullified the effect. New York remained loose and effective on offense, sensing that they could run away with the game.
Anfernee Simons tried to prevent that, splashing a pair of threes consecutively. Two problems:
- Cumulatively, they only cut New York’s lead to 14.
- That’s because the Knicks were scoring around and between every Portland possession.
When Lillard was called for a foul on an attempted strip of RJ Barrett with 7:10 remaining, he lost it (in Dame style), calling for a challenge that was doomed to fail. Billups followed his star’s inclinations, costing the team another timeout. For those counting, that’s four timeouts used in frustrating or unusual circumstances in the course of a single game. That pretty much tells you how the evening was going.
With the Knicks hitting their first seven field goals in a quarter that the Blazers were trying to come back in, the whistle hardly mattered. Nor did Lillard and Simons hitting even more shots. When Hart hit a three-pointer against the shot clock with 5:55 remaining, the Knicks led 113-96. As soon as Portland’s guards stopped shooting perfectly, the comeback withered and another loss went onto the books.
Stay tuned for extended game analysis, coming soon!
Portland gets a couple of days off before welcoming the Boston Celtics on Friday night with a 7:00 PM start.