Another Knicks comeback fell flat as the New York team has lost six-straight games, this one to Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.
The 12-5 Portland Trail Blazers came into Madison Square Garden with hopes of an easy win. In a tightly contested battle throughout the entire game, the Blazers gained momentum in the fourth quarter, leading to a 118-114 victory over the New York Knicks (4-14).
The New York Knicks entered the game against the Blazers, having lost five in a row, three of which were on the road. Coming back home, the Knicks stormed out of the gates, showing much of the same energy they possessed early in the season. The second half was entertaining, back-and-forth for the majority—until the fourth quarter. The Blazers gained momentum through the final frame, leading them to a much harder than expected win for the West’s top team.
18 games into the season, head coach David Fizdale has now made six starting rotation changes. Facing the Trail Blazers, the Knicks faced one of the best backcourts in the NBA—featuring All-NBA Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The duo wreaked havoc on the Knicks, scoring 60 points and assisting on 10 baskets. As it just so happens, the Knicks have the 28th worst defense in the NBA…and it showed.
Despite a 48-minute effort, the Knicks came up with a loss against one of the best teams in the west. Some takeaways from the game include Hardaway’s efficiency, Noah Vonleh’s revenge game, and Frank’s versatility throughout the game.
Tim Hardaway Jr. Efficiently Drops in 32 Points
In the past two games, Tim Hardaway Jr. has scored 62 points with nine total three-pointers. As the leading scorer of the ‘Bockers, Hardaway Jr. continues his campaign for stardom.
Primarily the only definitive starter thus far into the season, THJ has been surprisingly and pleasantly efficient from the field. So far, his slashes are 42/36/82 on 18 shots per game. Considering the Knicks have lost the majority of those games, the offense has not been the reason this team continues to lose.
TIM. HARDAWAY. JR.
27 points on the night! pic.twitter.com/X2W7lefmK0
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 21, 2018
The numbers, however, do not tell the whole story. Hardaway has been a much-improved shooter and scorer because of his shot selection. In previous seasons, THJ has gained the reputation as a ‘chucker’ because of his tendency to attempt tightly-contested shots. In 2018, Hardaway Jr. is a different player. Playing off the pick-and-roll or scoring in transition, Hardaway Jr. has been taking many higher percentage shots than he used to. Stay tuned for his progression, but 16 games into the season, Timmy looks legit.
Vonleh’s Revenge Against Blazers
Noah Vonleh is a former lottery pick of the Charlotte Hornets. He was then traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he played a career-high 206 games with the Blazers. Make no mistake, Vonleh is a young man at just 23 years old.
In his best game as a Knick and, coincidentally, against his former team, Vonleh scored 14 points on 4-of-8 from the field and grabbed 14 boards. His presence was felt offensively as he was able to stretch the floor, something that Enes Kanter and Mitchell Robinson have yet to show the ability to do. Attempting five from beyond the arc, Vonleh hit two. His ability to hit an open three changes the dynamics of offense, as it often allows Kanter more space to operate.
VONLEH ? ? pic.twitter.com/TWu527Ae7u
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 21, 2018
The lowlight of Vonleh’s game was in the final two minutes when the Knicks were down just two points. At the line for two shots, Vonleh missed both. Damian Lillard then took it down the court, took a step back jumper along the sideline, which of course went in, putting the Blazers up by four points with 45 seconds remaining. As Clyde says, missed free throws are the difference between winning and losing games.
Frank at Small Forward, Again…
After a red-hot start in the fourth quarter, thanks to the help of Trey Burke, Fizdale opted for defense once the Knicks caught up to the Blazers. With Ntilikina and Mudiay being subbed in for Burke and Hezonja, Ntilikina was tapped as that rotations best defender.
Ntilikina played 28 minutes in the loss against the Blazers, perhaps because they feature one of the best backcourts in the NBA. 28 minutes are his most in a game since November 2nd, when the Knicks faced the Dallas Mavericks. Frank has been showing how raw he is offensively over the past several games. Coming off the bench, Ntilikina did not show any more aggression that us fans had been hoping for.
Despite a poor offensive game, Ntilikina playing the small forward position in the fourth quarter against a Western Conference playoff-bound team speaks volume as to what Coach Fizdale thinks of the young Frenchman.
On a player development note, Ntilikina still struggles with accruing personal fouls, having 10 in the last three games. How many minutes he gets a game, and how aggressively he can play defensively is dependent on his foul-situation. Frank must improve in this field if he wants more opportunities to succeed offensively and defensively.
The Knicks pack their bags and head to Boston for a matchup with the reeling Celtics on Thanksgiving Eve.