For the first eight minutes of the game, Portland picked New York’s defense apart by pressing offensive advantages and utilizing excellent floor spacing. The Trail Blazers quickly identified offensive mismatches — Nicolas Batum on Rey Felton, Brandon Roy or Andre Miller in the post — and positioned a second player as a release valve in the mid-range area. As soon as the double team came, the ball was passed out quickly to a player waiting in the appropriate space and then whipped inside for a shot at the rim to a Blazer cutting back door as the Knick defenders attempted to scramble to cover the mid-range shot.
Then, Danilo Gallinari and his hair took a seat on the bench and Wilson Chandler checked into the game. Chandler and Landry Fields turned up the “scrap,” out-hustling the Trail Blazers perimeter players on their way to a combined 24 rebounds, eight of which on the offensive end. Meanwhile, Portland went ice cold from the field for four minutes and 16 excruciating seconds, missing seven straight field goal attempts and three straight free throws as the Knicks went on a 13-1 run.
Roy couldn’t repeat his end-of-quarters magic vs. the Clippers, and Portland ends the half tied at 44 apiece.
Even though things looked a bit bleak, the Trail Blazers remained the epitome of a veteran team, looking poised and patient as the young Knicks made their runs. Brandon Roy switched into “Kill” mode in the third quarter, pouring in 15 points. However, the duo of Fields and Chandler combined to match Roy with 15 points of their own as each team scored 30 in the period and went into the fourth quarter tied at 74.
The Knicks got out to a quick start in the fourth quarter, jumping to a nine point lead with 5:31 left in the game. Andre Miller brought the Trail Blazers storming back, dishing five assists and scoring 10 points in the quarter, including a rare three pointer giving Portland a one point lead with 2:06 to play.
New York tied things up at 95 after a Felton free throw with 1:23 to go and then Ronny Turiaf fouled LaMarcus Aldridge, sending him to the free throw line where he hit one of two. Back the other way, Raymond Felton drove the lane only to have his shot sent back by Nicolas Batum (Note: the boxscore says the block was attributed to Marcus Camby, that is incorrect, it was Nico that got it) and corralled by Aldridge. Portland called time out with 18 seconds left in regulation.
The Knicks worked hard to deny Roy and Miller the ball on the inbound play, but Wesley Matthews got the ball to Aldridge who was again sent to the line and again missed his chance to give Portland a decisive lead by going one-for-two.
Mike D’Antoni took a 20 second time out with 14 seconds left in the fourth, New York trailing by two. With about eight seconds on the clock, Amare’ Stoudamire made his move and drove the lane against a waiting Marcus Camby who despite playing with five fouls, took a gamble and cleanly swatted the ball off Stoudamire’s leg and out of bounds. Trail Blazer’s ball, six seconds left.
After the inbound, Andre Miller was sent to the line and coolly knocked down both his free throws to give Portland a four point lead with 5.9 seconds left. At the other end, Stoudamire missed the 25 foot desperation three and Nicolas Batum snared the defensive rebound and drew a foul with 1.7 seconds left on the clock. Nico went one-for-two and the Blazers beat the Knicks, 100-95, finishing the game on a 17-3 run.
- It’s not often that a team can miss 10 free throws and be out rebounded by nine boards on the offensive glass and still win the game. However, as bad as Portland was from the line, (20-30, 66.7% with all four Blazer starters attempting a free throw missing on their first try), New York was worse (14-25, 56%) and the six point made-free-throw differential cost the Knicks the game.
- Marcus Camby, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Miller all did a great job playing while in foul trouble, kudos to Nate McMillan for trusting his guys.
- Wesley Matthews struggled handling the ball against pressure from the Knick guards. With that contract and all the expectations, it’s hard to remember that Matthews is basically on the same timeline as Dante Cunningham, a four year college player in his second year in the league. He’ll get better.
- Speaking of Cunningham, he and Landry Fields engaged in a “scrap-off” where Dante blocked Fields’ jumper, which Fields recovered, only to be blocked by Dante once again. Welcome to the NBA Landry.
- LaMarcus Aldridge had a tough half, shooting three for ten from the field and one for four from the line. Aldridge’s shot selection was encouraging, even if the shots didn’t fall. Aldridge took the majority of his shots in the paint in the first half and made strong moves to the hoop, but absorbed a lot of contact that didn’t get called and had trouble finishing a few gimmies. Aldridge ended the game with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but it really felt like he should have had 30.
- Portland is a veteran team now. Watching the Knicks, I had flashbacks to games against San Antonio or Dallas where Portland would make runs, but in the end the veteran team smacked them right back down, doing just enough to win the game. In the NBA, there is too much parity for regular wire-to-wire victories. The ability to turn it up a notch in the fourth quarter, the way Portland has in each of their three games, is the hallmark of a winning team.