Trail Blazers vs Knicks Tuesday, 01/01/13 AT 04:30PM

Trail Blazers Ring In The New Year, Win At MSG

01/02/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    The Trail Blazers (16-14) jumped out and outplayed the New York Knicks (21-10) for a full 48 minutes and withstood a comeback and 45 points from Carmelo Anthony to win 105-100. Nicolas Batum led the Trail Blazers with 26 points, six assists and 4 rebounds while Damian Lillard had 21 points and hit the Trail Blazers final field goal that helped seal the win.

    "Obviously it was a great win for us," Terry Stotts said. "We've been struggling on the road and to get a win like this in the Garden against a good team like this was something that we haven't had yet this year."

    This had the makings of a great one even before the opening tip. The first game of four in five nights and Amar'e Stoudemire's return to the court. It was also Damian Lillard's first game at Madison Square Garden. All that Lillard has done, you know by now, but tonight he added another tale of triumph to a season that has seen far more from him this early than anybody had ever thought. With 35 second left and the Trail Blazers lead only at three points, which had been as high as 10 points, Lillard shook New York's Pablo Prigioni just enough to pull one of his signature step back threes (video) to put Portland up six. That was the last field goal the Trail Blazers would hit as two Wesley Matthews put the game away after a Portland turnover and a defensive stop. But everybody had big moments in this game as it was won from the very beginning.

    The Trail Blazers had great point distribution in the early going. JJ Hickson almost all of his damage in the game's early going. He was beating every Knicks big man to the spots he wanted to get to. His energy helped get the Trail Blazers going early, as it it seems it always does. Hickson is not without his flaws, but his energy has helped get the Trail Blazers going time and again. He scored 18 in the first half with almost everything being dunks or lay-ups. Nicolas Batum kept playing the way he played against the Sixers on Saturday, with a balance of scoring, facilitating and rebounding. He scored eight points in the first quarter but also dished five assists. He did most of his damage from the three-point line as only one of his field goals was inside the arc. Also, Wesley Matthews' returned, giving the Trail Blazers another offensive weapon. However, Stotts also mixed his line-ups masterfully, as he has been doing ever since the Trail Blazers seven-game road trip. Portland led by as much as 20 but the Knicks came back to make the lead just 11 after a ridiculous one-handed bank three from Carmelo Anthony.

    Despite the way that Portland played, the Trail Blazers couldn't stop two players: Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. Anthony had it going from the early going and was doing anything he wanted against whoever guarded him. He is having an MVP-type season and he played like one tonight while Smith is a leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. But, the Knicks have excelled when they play like a team and with two players doing almost all of the scoring, the Knicks didn't have balance or a rhythm. Portland just flowed but they were also tough on the glass as LaMarcus Aldridge led the way with 14 rebounds to go with 19 points in a big time match-up against Tyson Chandler, as Stotts elected to play Aldridge at center in the fourth quarter. Tonight was the first time since the previous road trip that we've seen the line-up of Lillard, Matthews, Batum, Babbitt and Aldridge at center. Babbitt (6 points, 6 rebounds in 18 minutes) hit some shots and also did well enough on the glass at the four while Batum and Lillard started to get loose. Other players made big plays including Ronnie Price who hit a desperation three with the shot clock winding down from 28-feet away.

    The line-up with Aldridge at center and Babbitt at the four was the line-up that had the 18-point Charlotte comeback and despite the fact that Anthony and Smith made it close late, they kept their composure. Also, with a decision that may have confused some, Terry Stotts exposed the lack of balance and ball movement in their offense by going with a zone defense at various points of the game, including in the final moments, against the NBA's best three-point shooting team.

    "The zone was pretty good for us. They (the Knicks) are an excellent team out of time outs," Stotts said. "They run a lot of misdirections and can get guys shots, so that was part of the game plan coming in to uses zone out of timeouts and disrupt their rhythm on the offensive end."

    The Trail Blazers made a team effort, but Lillard's shot (click link to hear Brian Wheeler's call of the shot) will certainly get the headlines. However, the possession before Lillard's now memorable shot, LaMarcus Aldridge grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back to 2:02 scoring drought and help keep the Knicks at arm's length. From top-to-bottom, with the stage, the opponent and the previous road woes, this is Portland's most impressive win. After the Lakers game, there was a sobering feeling about this team's prospects going forward. Ed Kupfer charted out the toughest schedule for the rest of the season and Portland was rated the 4th toughest. The doubters began to raise their voices again but as they've done already, the Trail Blazers just kept surprising everybody, except probably themselves. Also, one could sense the impact that Wesley Matthews' return to the court had, even without big stat lines (8 points), as it seemed everybody dug down a little deeper made an extra effort play or grabbed a clutch rebound. Having your emotional leader back can do that for you. The Trail Blazers are two games over .500 for the first time all season.

    Here are Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews after the win.

    The Trail Blazers travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors tomorrow night. That game will tip off at 4PM and will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

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