Maybe Madison Square Garden is the Mecca of Basketball in the way that the place humbles all pilgrims who travel there and turns them into a single mass of equally imperfect beings in the eyes of Clyde Frazier. What I’m saying is, the Trail Blazers looked real Knicksy themselves last night in their 94-90 win over the home team.
First, Mike Woodson’s band of un-renown broke the Blazers’ minds by throwing him into the pit of chaos, a defense that lacked an apparent central philosophy but featured quite a bit of Knicks scrambling around (they even ran some full-court press in this game). The depth and variety of the resulting matchups alone – Robin Lopez vs. Carmelo Anthony, Nicolas Batum vs. Ray Felton, LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Iman Shumpert, Wes Matthews vs. Geedorah – put us all into a strange mind state. The Blazers actually played fairly well offensively throughout the first quarter, and Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum both got out to nice starts, but Mike Woodson had already infected the brains of the Blazers.
The only place where the Knicks relied upon a single, EFFECTIVE! matchup was in employing defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler on LaMarcus Aldridge. The Big Texan never—well never say never, as we find out later—but for most of the game Aldridge struggled to find any kind of rhythm or place of comfort and peace of mind in the solitude of Chandler’s dungeon. At one point late in the game, Aldridge was 1-10 from the field. However, he did finish 5-17 from the field, and the 4 that took him from that 1 to 5 were quite lovely, but we’ll get to that.
Also somewhat to be expected, the Knicks found semi-consistent success with the god Carmelo Anthony. The Blazers have often struggled this year with “stretch 4” types who can bang a little bit on defense but step outside and do damage on the perimeter on offense, and well, Carmelo Anthony is maybe the most pure scorer in the league who happens to be kind of a “stretch 4” type who can bang a little bit on defense but step outside and do damage on the perimeter on offense. Melo finished with 26 points on 11-28 shooting.
Tangent: is there anything underneath Mike Woodson’s perfectly rounded goatee, like his face, or something along those lines? Or does the goatee just go on forever, no matter how deep one were to dig, like one of the flavors in spumoni ice cream?
Now, getting back to those infected brains.
Terry Stotts did some weird stuff with the lineups. I don’t mean that he invited them over for dinner, then made them star in surprisingly well-produced self-filmed renditions of his favorite operas, but weird is relative. Dorell Wright got to play, quite a bit (he hit a three!), after being buried alive down at the end of the bench for the last few weeks. C.J. McCollum didn’t get to play at all, even while Mo Williams had more stretches that made the Internet very angry with him. Thomas Robinson also did not play, WHICH MEANS YOU GUESSED IT THAT WE WERE BLESSED BY THE PRESENCE OF ONE MEYERS LEONARD.
Leonard looked like a real basketball wizard out there, like a young Bill Bradley demonstrating his unique mastery of the hardwood rectangle. In only nine minutes, watching Leonard was like watching the live-action embodiment, or maybe sequel, of John McPhee’s A Sense of Where You Are. Just beautiful, inspired stuff.
I’m just kidding it wasn’t like that but Leonard did hit a jumper! Whoo!
Coincidentally, the Blazers and their new rotation looked pretty arrhythmic and disjointed for long stretches. I don’t have the exact numbers here but I’m pretty sure Portland’s shooting percentage for much of the third quarter, and definitely most of the fourth quarter, was somewhere around the alcoholic content of wine, or maybe one of those colorful girly liquours, definitely not manly chest-hair-growing liquor though.
The Knicks didn’t fare a whole lot better, but did somehow make it a two point game with 50 seconds left, after a finally awakened J.R. Smith (he likes to sleep in, that J.R.) hit a three-pointer, followed by a terrible Batum turnover, followed by a Tim Hardway Jr. three-pointer. Fortunately, LaMarcus came down and forgot all his troubles and banged a tough jumper to put the Blazers back up by two possessions. It was the Mecca of Basketball, after all.