This time it was a 16-point lead blown by the Portland Trail Blazers (31-38) in their 123-107 loss to the New York Knicks (41-30) on Tuesday night in the Moda Center.
Defensively the Blazers came out hot, not allowing the Knicks to score a point until the 7:48 mark in the first quarter on a RJ Barrett 3-pointer. Portland had already opened up a 10-0 lead by then despite not having Jerami Grant, who was out with a left quad contusion.
Matisse Thybulle was a big reason for both, forcing one steal and finishing on the other end. Add in a couple made 3-pointers and the trade deadline acquisition had 10 points in the first frame as the Blazers led 33-20. Portland had 12 fastbreak points as well off of six New York turnovers.
The bench struggled in their minutes however, allowing the Knicks to get within seven points before the starters returned.
That was also thanks in part to Josh Hart, who the Blazers shipped off in the trade for Cam Reddish and Ryan Arcidiacono. Hart finished the first half with six points, five rebounds and a steal.
Damian Lillard struggled to find his shot inside, but hit a couple 3-pointers and a few free throws to help Portland keep a small lead heading into the break up 55-49.
Lillard wouldn’t be enough to withstand New York in the third quarter however as the Knicks dropped 42 points in the frame.
The Knicks found their rhythm from the 3-point line, hitting five of them in the third. Not only that, but New York only turned the ball over once and found the holes that Portland was plugging early.
On the offensive end, the plan reverted back to letting Lillard do all the scoring. He had 14 of the Blazers’ 26 points in the third, leaving Portland behind 91-81 entering the fourth.
New York stayed hot into the fourth quarter while Portland couldn’t buy a bucket inside, and tempers flared toward the end with Nassir Little picking up a tech in the frame arguing for a foul call.
Immanuel Quickley finished with 26 points on four made 3-pointers and 10 rebounds to pace the Knicks with Julius Randle not far behind with 24 points and 10 rebounds also.
New York shot 69.2% from the floor in the second half, which included 10 made 3-pointers. Meanwhile Portland was at a 38% clip.
Lillard to no surprise led in scoring with 38 points. Anfernee Simons chipped in 22.
The glaring difference was only five points from the Blazers bench before garbage time helped get them to 12 for the game. Shaedon Sharpe only played around 5.5 minutes before getting in for the last two minutes of the game.
Up next is a battle on St. Patrick’s Day with the Boston Celtics of all teams. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday
What they said
“It started before (the third quarter). We started the game awesome, obviously had a great first quarter. In the second quarter, you felt it kind of slipping a little bit. They got more aggressive, they got more physical in that quarter and I felt like we caved a little bit to their aggressive pressure. They started putting their head down and going to the basket. The biggest difference was, in the first quarter, we played solid defense, was able to collect the rebound and we were off to the races and scored a lot in transition. Second quarter, they put their head down and got on the free throw line,” Billups said.
“We couldn’t make a shot. I had to start making subs and our bench struggled, really struggled obviously. But we couldn’t make the twos in the paint, couldn’t make threes. It was a snowball,” Billups said.
“We just couldn’t sustain what we were doing well. I think all the games we’ve played well lately, we haven’t been able to sustain it. I think we started the game pretty solid in Boston, couldn’t sustain it. In Philly, I think we played one our best games of the season against a really good season for three and a half quarters, couldn’t sustain it. I think tonight was a case of the same thing,” Lillard said.
“Sometimes you come out in the beginning, the game is fresh. The best way to put it is there’s not as much pressure on those opening moments of the game, there’s so much game to go. And as the game goes on, the game tightens up. People sharpen up, adjustments get made, the entire game, both teams are trying to change things up to throw the other team off. I think we’ve just struggled with that, with the changes that happen over the course of a game, we’ve had a hard time with it,” Lillard said.
Nothing from the pine: New York stayed in the game thanks to the Blazers bench struggling to find the bottom of the net. Reddish and Sharpe were the only two to score in the first half for a combined five points.
Beat at their own game: Portland has been one of the best teams in the league at getting to the line, thanks in large part to Lillard. But New York got to the line 34 times on Tuesday and hit 24 of those shots while Portland was 14 for 18.
Hart’s return: In his first game back to Portland after getting traded back at the deadline, Hart put up a familiar line of 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to help the Knicks thrash the Blazers second unit.
Game grade: F
At this time of the year with the stated goal of making the playoffs, there’s no more room for error. This loss drops Portland three games back of the Los Angeles Lakers for the 10th spot with 13 games to go. At this point, it seems highly unlikely the Blazers will be able to make up ground, especially with eight of those games coming against teams above .500. The bench has looked dreadful and the issue of sustaining leads is still an issue in March after being on the forefront for a majority of the season. We know this team didn’t get much better, if it even did, at the trade deadline. But if the goal is really the playoffs, this team hasn’t grown enough for that to be possible, no matter how many points Lillard might drop.