Blazers Keep the Door Open
By mikebarrett Posted in: Knicks
Yes, it's still going to be very much an uphill battle for this team to fight back into the top eight in the Western Conference and make the playoffs, but the Trail Blazers continue to say they're not dead and won't stop fighting. Thursday night at the Rose Garden they did what they had to do- they beat the shorthanded New York Knicks, 105-90.
Exactly one year ago tonight was the low point in what turned out to be a very frustrating season. The Blazers were blown out by the Knicks at Madison Square Garden 121-79. I can tell you from experience, that was a long flight that night to Chicago. And the following day, trade-deadline day, came the shake up we figured was coming. Nate McMillan was fired, and the veteran core of the team was sent away.
When you say it like that, and remember back, it seems like a lot longer than a year ago, actually.
As bad as it all felt that day, we've quickly (yes, just one year is very quick in this league) come to be thankful it all went down the way it did. Of course, that was the day the Blazers acquired the draft pick that would turn into Damian Lillard.
What I wonder now is, had Portland beat the Knicks that night, and beat them soundly, would that have changed anything that happened the next day? Would the trades still have been made? Or, would a big win have caused management to pause, and to perhaps wait? We knew big changes would be coming at some point, but did the embarrassing loss push the Blazers to rip the band-aid off quickly, rather than decide to sit quietly and bleed out with the wound covered?
We'll probably never know. But, what we do know is that it's sure a lot more fun to be headed up the mountain than sliding down the other side.
This, of course, is very fresh in our minds on this night. Not only because the Blazers were playing the Knicks again, but because Raymond Felton, the guy many fans held responsible for last season's misery, was back in front of us. He survived that trade-deadline day last season, but didn't survive the summer.
In Felton's place for the Blazers is one of the most dynamic rookie point guards this league has seen in years. He's tremendous on the court, and even better off of it. Lillard, on Thursday night, made me think back on that night one year ago with warm feelings. I cursed it then, and absolutely count my NBA blessings now.
I'm not here to pile on Felton. The fans at the Rose Garden let him have it, and rightly so. Now it's over, and so is that time. It was liking seeing your ex for the first time, and realizing you're so much better off now. It also helps if you let yourself realize that if not for that struggle, even as painful as it was, you wouldn't be where you are now had you not gone through it. Felton's better off too, but I don't care much about that. What I care about is Lillard and the direction of this team, whether or not that includes playoff games this season.
Lillard shot down the Knicks in New York on New Year's Day, and tonight beat them again, scoring 26 points, on 11 of 18 shooting, and dished out 10 assists. Felton was 4 of 12 and scored 11 points.
But, as much as we wanted this to be about the past vs. the present, Lillard vs. Felton, it wasn't. We already know what we have vs. what we had, no matter the outcome of this game. No one was surprised Lillard soundly outplayed Felton. The Blazers simply needed a win to continue on this journey, and to continue this growth process. Staying in this playoff race, no matter how long the odds, is vital to the process. That's why I hope it continues for as long as it mathematically can. These young guys need to experience March and April NBA basketball that means something.
In a strange way, this game had me very worried all day. I always feel that way when star players are out and the x-factor enters into the equation. How could have you possibly have scouted the team New York put on the floor? That's dangerous, and the guy who kept popping into my mind all day was J.R. Smith. He's talented enough to get on a roll and just about beat you single-handedly.
Well, Smith had 33 off the bench, but once the Blazers settled down and started to figure out this version of the Knicks, they took control. As you know if you watched it, the turning point came just before halftime. The Blazers ripped off a 13-0 run going into the break and things were never really in doubt after that.
LaMarcus Aldridge had as much to say about this Portland win as Lillard, despite the fact that my storyline involved only the point guards. Aldridge, who's been battling a bad migraine, fought the bright lights, loud crowd, the distractions, and posted an all-star-type game. He ended with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots. It was Aldridge's 30th double-double of the season.
JJ Hickson now has 36 double-doubles. He had 12 points and 16 rebounds. No other two teammates in the NBA have combined for 66 double-doubles this season.
Blazer fans also saw the old Nic Batum in this game. He has decided to just remove the wrist brace, fight the pain, and get back to work. Batum had 16 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. Just seeing him actually attempt 10 shots was refreshing.
Wesley Matthews was the other Blazer starter in double figures, as he went for 14 points and 5 rebounds.
Back to Lillard. He has now scored at least 20 points in eight-straight games. That's the longest such streak for a Blazer rookie since Calvin Natt did it nine-straight times in 1980. Damian also now has 34 games of 20 or more on the season. That ranks 10th in the NBA- not among rookies, but among all
This was also Lillard's fourth 20-point, 10-assist game. No other rookie this year in the NBA has one such game. Lillard is now the fastest NBA player (64 career games) to reach 1,200 points and 400 assists in a season since Allen Iverson in 1997.
You want one more? Only three other NBA players this season have at least 1,200 points and 400 assists- LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Steph Curry.
That's pretty good company.
That's a pretty good future.
And, that's a pretty good bounce-back 365 days since Portland's last loss to New York.