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Trail Blazers 103, Knicks 91: “Grumble, grumble”

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight’s game versus the Portland Trail Blazers was the start of a stretch of four of five at home for the New York Knicks. Portland was on the last leg of a five-game road trip. You know how that sounds like it’d go down? It didn’t go down like that. The Blazers won 103-91, smoking the Knicks like a [thinks of Thanksgiving allusions/remembers Thanksgiving’s over/locks onto next holiday on his radar] fine Christmas ham.

The Knicks entered tonight fifth in the league in assists and the Blazers were dead last, yet the Blazers were the ones moving and grooving and dishing and swishing and posting and toasting and styling and profiling and shaking and baking. A 16-1 run bridging the first and second quarters turned a one-point game into a blowout. It wasn’t just Damian Lillard, though there was an awful lot of him. It was everybody. By halftime Portland’s bench had outscored New York’s 20-6, every Knick had a negative plus/minus and every Blazer was in the black.

The crowd began mildly complaining in the second quarter and reached “lustily booing” status by the third, when Lillard poured in 17 of his game-high 32 as Portland built a 26-point lead. Mike Breen kept pointing out these were “the first boos” of the year. Is this a thing in other markets? Noting the arrival of the first boos of the year like they’re the swallows returning to Capistrano?

Up until the fourth, the high point of the night was Clyde making an A Few Good Men joke that cracked Mike Breen up. New York opened the frame with Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Doug McDermott, Michael Beasley and Willy Hernangomez. Jeff Hornacek was looking for a spark — hell, he even unwrapped Joakim Noah and Damyean Dotson in the first half — and he got one: the Knicks went on a 14-0 run over the first half of the quarter, earning the first cheers of the night. The comeback hit a fatal roadblock essentially after some extracurriculars between Beasley and Nurkic.

Beasley drew a technical, as did Ntilikina for being the third man in. Coupled with the shooting foul on Beasley, Portland got four cheap free throws and went up 16 again. It’s possible Beasley’s motivation was externally-driven.

The Knicks kept crawling, drawing fouls and cutting the deficit to eight with a little over a minute left. On the next possession Porzingis appeared to block Lillard’s shot, but was called for goaltending after getting the ball after it hit the glass. Replay showed Beasley blocked the shot before Porzingis touched it, meaning logically the goaltend couldn’t have happened. But apparently the NBA has some rule stating as long as the ball is still on the way up yada yada yada the dumb call stands.

Notes:

  • Nurkic killed the Knicks quietly all night. 12 points and six assists, but he always seemed to be there when the moment needed him. A virtuosic performance. I’d love to watch his passing over 82 games. I think I’d probably love watching him play, period. Finding backdoor cutter after backdoor cutter....the arcing, rainbow baseline jumpers. Još, molim.
  • The Knick defense was hemorrhaging all night long until the fourth. Giving up 90 points after 36 minutes is no way to go through life.
  • Not the loudest, proudest night for Porzingis, but it was impressive in one sense: drawing fouls after a move failed to get him a good look. He pulled this off a few times, and once had a finish after being seemingly stifled that was eerily Melo-like.
  • Noah’s season debut came five minutes into the second. He blocked a shot on his first defensive possession, earning cheers. He grabbed a defensive rebound on the next possession, grabbed it emphatically, earning bigger cheers. Soon after that he hit his first shot, a driving layup. And...that three-minute vignette was the end of his night. The heart that beats in Jeff Hornacek’s chest is not the heart of a romantic.
  • “Tough night for the neophyte,” Clyde said regarding Ntilikina. Frank hit a few jumpers in the fourth. Hope that helps get his shooting going. Hope he spends a lot of next summer putting up shots.
  • Frank has stepped up to LeBron James and Jusuf Nurkic early in his career. He’s already tougher than Kevin Garnett ever was.
  • Hardaway stopped a 3-on-1 Portland break by drawing a charge on Nurkic. Is there a current NBA player you’d less like step in front of on the break?
  • Dotson played the last two minutes of the first and didn’t play again.
  • The Blazers went six-and-a-half minutes in the fourth without a point before finally drawing a shooting foul. They missed the first free throw. Don’t you love when a team hasn’t scored in a while and everyone knows it, and then they get to the line and miss that first free throw? And people start wondering if maybe something magical is actually happening?
  • Ramon Sessions entered early in the third because Jarrett Jack was having as much success defending Lillard as I would have. Sessions helped cause one shot-clock violation by stifling Nurkic in the paint.
  • The Knicks’ last-moments-of-the-first-half defense this year is something less than stellar. Gave up a cheap deuce as the second ended to fall behind 16. Trailing by 16 feels more than two points worse than being behind 14.

Quoth Rubbercons: “Grumble grumble.” A fair reflection of the incoherence of tonight’s performance by the home team. New York next hosts Miami Wednesday night. See you then.