The Knicks and Blazers yesterday apparently seemed to come to their first encounter, since the Blazers ruined Stoudemire’s homecoming, like two ships crossing in the night.
On the one side, the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference Knicks have taken the league by storm: rising over the course of the regular season as a middle of the pack playoff team with the flexibility to add to their roster to address need. The 8th seeded Western Conference Blazers appear, at first blush, to be a team possibly on the decline and in transition due to a series of injuries to key players such as Brandon Roy and Greg Oden — injuries which have placed the Blazers’ hopes of contention as a young up and coming team in question.
Yet all is not as it appears to be at the surface. The Blazers over the recent weeks had fought on despite the key injuries. They had recently been on a three-game winning streak only snapped by overtime heroics by the Miami Heat’s, Lebron James. The Knicks despite all the bluster of this year’s resurgence have mostly been humbled by the creme de la creme of the NBA, losing games twice to Miami and Boston and recently getting crushed by the Laker’s long front court to snap the Knicks most recent three game win streak.
But when the Knicks actually met the Blazers the fly by night scenario of the apparently rising Knicks and apparantly descending Blazers played itself out to the letter.
The Knicks took control of the game early in the 1st quarter. Portland cut into a large 1st half lead to go into the halftime down only 6. Portland would make a nice run to start the 2nd half. That wasn’t enough though to stop a Knicks team that appeared to be better overall at this point in the season than the Blazers. After replacing Douglas (who struggled in the early 2nd half) with Felton and Stoudemire’s return to the game, the Knicks went on a litteral run. The run was sparked by a series of defensive stops that resulted in fast play opportunities that were punctuated by Alley Oop throw downs by Chander (2) and Stoudemire (1). The assualt would continue with a mixture of Felton’s guidance at the point as the Knicks surged to a double digit lead in the 4th. Knicks didn’t let up once they reestablished their lead.
The game was paced by the impressive showing of the Knicks’ own Mr. T, Rony Turiaf. T earned his player of the game award. He set the example defensively and on the boards and had his best offensive showing to date. Turiaf’s end of the game stat line was 19 points, 10 boards, 3 assist, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots. Turiaf’s presence made the talented Blazer forward work hard for his points in the paint. Aldridge finished the game also with 19 points and 10 boards but he was effectively neutralized by the relentless work of Turiaf and timely Knick double teams and weak side help defense.
Felton also had an impressive showing and his impact on the game was clearly demonstrated in the 3rd quarter. He was brought back in after a 3rd quarter rest to gather the Knicks who had withstood an early 3rd quarter run by the Blazers under Felton’s understudy Toney Douglas. Felton finished the game with 17 points 14 assist (many of them on flashy alley oops), 3 steals and 2 boards.
Chandler had a nice showing, especially in the 2nd half where his series of nasty throw downs on two alley oop plays. Those plays punctuated a Knicks run that would effectively take the games momentum for the Knicks and silence the Blazers crowd. Chandler also scored with a variety of mid range jumpers and layups. The Thrill would finish the game with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 1 assist.
Amar’e steadied the Knicks throughout the game with a strong mid range shooting game that answered the Blazers efforts to deny him his accustomed inside penetration. Stoudemire finished the game with 23 ponts, 8 boards, 4 assist (many were to his teamates who found themselves moving to the interior), and 1 blocked shot.
The Knicks held the Blazers to under 90 points they limited the Blazers to 34.9% overall. The Blazers terribly three point shooting( 22.2%) obviously didn’t help them there. Though the Blazers were able to stay in the game untill the Knicks late 3rd to 4th quarter surge by an early advantage on the offensive glass and by getting to the free throw line almost twice as much as the Knicks (24-28 for 85.7% free throw shooting for the Blazers when compared to 11-15 for 73.3% freethrow shooting for the Knicks). However, the Knicks ultimately won the game by combinging defensive effort, better rebounding in the 2nd half (they ended the game outreboinded by the pacers only 43 (29T/14Off) to 40 (31T/9Off) and a strong overall offensive showing (50.0% overall 41.7% from the arc). The Knicks showing in almost all fazes of the game made for an impressive win.
At the end of the night the Knicks exited the Rose Garden deflouring the hopes of the crowd. They smoked the blazers with a show of defensively induced and offensively surging bravado.