Good morning Blazer fans, Antonio here. After a long six days of waiting and two postponements, the Blazers returned to action with a 116–113 victory against the New York Knicks.
A few years ago (even last year, if we’re being honest), a three-point victory against a hapless New York team would be a glaring red flag. This team is not the same Knicks. A shorthanded victory against a superb defensive team is something the team can hang its hat on. Despite the victory, things were not as pretty as could be. Let’s take a look.
Tale of Two Halves
In the first half, everything seemed to be clicking for a well-rested Portland squad. A 37 point bonanza in the first quarter lead to 70 first-half points and a 20 point lead. The Blazers hit 12 shots from beyond the arc. Terry Stotts implemented a zone defense that had the Knicks baffled, committing careless turnovers and forcing up bad shots.
Then came the halftime adjustments. The Knicks proved they were better than the average high school team at exposing a zone and the Blazers shot ice cold. A 25 point lead soon shriveled to three. Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley chipped in 21 points in the fourth to make it a close on
For as good as the first half looked, the second half seemed to be the exact opposite. This team is still hurting without both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, and the second half showed that it is tough to play a full game without them.
Point Guards Shine
The most fascinating development of the McCollum injury to me is the play of Anfernee Simons. Portland’s biggest wildcard, the uber-athletic backup PG, scored 16 off the bench today on efficient 6–9 shooting. Simons even got the nod over Gary Trent Jr. for the crunch time minutes. These quality backup minutes are just what the Blazers need when Lillard is out.
But of course, Anfernee Simons is the backup. Damian Lillard is the show. For as good as Simons handled things without Lillard, Dame racked up 39 points, missing his first shot in the third quarter. Lillard dished out eight assists, brought down five point boards, and hit four clutch free throws. His third straight game of 35+ points. Another regular day at the office.
Covington’s Struggles Continue
The day the Blazers traded for Robert Covington, I hopped out of bed, sprinted downstairs, and frantically told my roommate Tim the exciting news. Here was the 3-and-D man Portland had been desperately searching for. As I told Tim, he was an “Al-Farouq Aminu who could shoot.”
For as big of acquisition as Covington was, his initial 15 games for the Blazers have been, well, disappointing. After averaging 12.8 points on 43% shooting in Houston, his numbers have dropped to 6.5 on 30% shooting. That’s 30% shooting from the field.
Is it time to hit the panic button? Not yet. It always takes a bit to adjust to a new team, especially in a pandemic-riddled season. Covington’s defense has been there in spurts, but so far, Portland has been winning in spite of his offense, not because of it.
The Blazers nearly blew a 20 point lead. But in the NBA, every three-point squeaker is just as valuable as a massive 40 point blowout. It may have been inconsistent and a bit frustrating to watch at times, but the Blazers pulled out another close win without two of their best players. And that’s got to be worth some applause.