The Blazers’ sole trip to the Garden resulted in a win against the Knicks, who were routinely victorious when playing at home and only prevented a landslide defeat after a frenetic fourth quarter.

A year ago, we were pontificating about the possibility of the Knicks finishing their season at or above .500. The cause for our collective optimistic thought bubble was New York’s handling of the Blazers at the Garden in a thrilling game, which marked Porzingis’ second career 30 point effort. The Knicks went to 7-7 and the city was in a pleasant if brief mood.

In 2017, however, things have descended downwards as opposed to the ascending hopefulness. Monday’s defeat at home against Portland Trail Blazers (13-8) marked the Knicks’ third straight loss, a loss that brought the Knicks to .500 (10-10); a wildly different feeling than KP’s nightly 30 points that rode the Knicks to three games above .500.

Here’s what happened in a Monday night showdown at MSG, which featured the fiery scoring of Damian Lillard.

Porzingis is back, and Porzingis’ back

Kristaps Porzingis returned to game action after sitting out the match up in Houston due to a lower back issue. Although he was forcing plenty of shots on Monday night, there was room for optimism as KP asserted his presence and made the Blazers foul the power forward. Porzingis went to the charity stripe nine times overall. Additionally, KP threw up a few ill-advised three-pointers; normally I’m a huge proponent for Kristaps hoisting up triples, but the Latvian looked like he was trying to compensate for lost field-goal attempts in his Houston absence. Porzingis played 32 minutes and scored 22 points on 37.5 percent shooting and chipped in seven rebounds and a rejection for the NBA’s block leader.

Notably, KP was absent during New York’s strange run during the fourth quarter, which cut the deficit to 10. Hornacek inserted the Unicorn back on the court, but nothing was enough after Portland built a comfortable cushion for their lead on the road.

A second quarter to forget

New York only scored 14 points in the second period. Nothing was working for the team, and in the first five minutes of the quarter, Hornacek’s bench unit looked completely confounded. A lineup consisting of players Willy Hernangómez, Lance Thomas, Frank Ntilikina, and Doug McDermott was not up to task with Portland’s bench. LeBron James’ hand-picked point guard Shabazz Napier and mid-range deity Evan Turner somehow fooled the Knicks.

The same quarter also re-introduced MSG to Joakim Noah, the center who has been sidelined due to suspension, and inactive until Enes Kanter’s injury brought the $72 million man back into action. Noah’s limited time on the court in his 2017-18 season debut was weirdly O.K., in that nobody, including Joakim, was injured (other than potentially the eardrums of those sitting courtside). Noah’s first defensive possession ended in a jump shot block, and Portland’s center defending Noah gave the latter plenty of room to awkwardly drive and shoot a banking layup.

Serendipitously, the Blazers had difficulty finding the bottom of the bucket in the same time frame. Of note, six of New York’s nine victories at home came from overcoming deficits over double figures, so the game wasn’t completely out of reach when the Knicks went to the locker room for intermission.

Dame D.O.L.L.A. does a lotta damage

Damian Lillard is often compared to his hometown’s squad’s All-Star point guard, Stephen Curry. Although there are pros and cons to such a complimentary juxtaposition, no one can deny the sort of damage Lillard can wreck on lesser teams. Dame was simply unguardable on Monday, and as MSG play-by-play man Mike Breen mentioned, Lillard “makes it look easy” on the floor. He heated up during the third quarter, eclipsing 20 points 4:30 into the period. Along with his backcourt partner, Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 44 of Portland’s 103 points, sinking the tumbling Knicks team on the Garden floor just enough after a disastrous fourth for the Oregonians.

Despite this game’s less than thrilling nature (especially contrasted to last year’s match), Dame was a thrilling sight to behold. The All-Star’s game was silky smooth with floaters, and it wasn’t until a brief Ramon Sessions stint in the third period and some Frank-on-Dame moments that anybody could momentarily stop the Weber State alum. Lillard had to return into the blowout during the fourth quarter when his team failed to score for five minutes. New York’s 14-0 run (initiated by Michael Beasley no less) would not prevail, however, as the ghosts of quarters past haunted a chance for a Knickerbocker comeback. Portland’s first point of the final period came off only one made free-throw by Noah Vonleh.

Miscellaneous notes
  • New York’s defense proved why they’re 21st in the league in defensive rating at 106.3 (via NBA/Stats). They surrendered 90 points through three quarters, and only survived a West Coast offensive rampage due to Portland’s bumbling fourth quarter performance (the Blazers only made three field-goals during the last frame).
  • The “This Is Kristaps’ Team” moment of the game: After a Jusuf Nurkic defensive three seconds violation, Porzingis shook off veteran Courtney Lee and proceeded to take the free-throw himself.
  • The “Kyle O’Quinn Experience” moment of the game: on two consecutive possessions, first O’Quinn had Nurkic on a nifty fake on a drive to the basket, which gave the former an easy layup, then Kyle pumped fake a jumper only to whiff on a 20-footer.
  • After becoming the third Knick to score 30 points this season, Michael Beasley found scarce minutes on Monday, only entering the game in the second half and playing a total of 14 minutes.
  • Frank Ntilikina only scored six points on 3-of-11 from the field, tying his career-high in field-goal attempts; his offense has been rather terrible, even when he finds good looks for himself, his attempts have fallen flat, and he looked inept from close range. On the positive side, Frank looked disruptive on defense, so one can only hope his offensive game follows the strides he has made guarding NBA players. He was a thorn in Lillard’s side during the fourth quarter. Ntilikina picked up his first NBA technical foul after shoving a loquacious Nurkic while the officials were separating the Bosnian and Michael Beasley. (What do you get after the rite of passage first tech in the NBA? Maybe a congrats text/call from Sheed?)

  • #WillyWatch2k17: some bad moments in the first half were quickly forgotten after Willy came alive during the fourth quarter fake comeback. Hernangómez’s spark-plug defense (?!) and rebounding were useful when the Blazers’ scoring well ran dry. Hornacek pulled Willy and brought in Center-Porzingis although there wasn’t enough time to save New York.

Well, the Knicks fell back to Earth. Next game is Wednesday against Erik Spoeltra’s Miami Heat. Dale.