Blazers Reach Halfway Point By Sweeping Series With Knicks

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Portland Trail Blazers, when playing engaged, focused basketball, can best a team like the New York Knicks rather handily. But when they play like they did in the first half of Monday night’s game at the Moda Center, they can be beaten by just about any team, even one with just 10 wins in 40 tries playing the fifth game of a six-game road trip.

Given Portland’s performance in the third quarter, one imagines the coaching staff drove home that point during the halftime intermission.

After a nip-and-tuck first half that saw seven ties and four lead changes, the Trail Blazers scored the first nine points of the second half and built an 18-point lead in the third quarter before riding out the fourth quarter for a 111-101 victory in front of a crowd of 19,026 Monday at the Moda Center.

“Good win. I liked the way we came out both halves, the first half and second half got off to good starts," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "Obviously, I think New York plays hard and did some good things to keep themselves in the game, but overall, it was just a solid win."

With the win, the Trail Blazers extend their winning streak versus the Knicks to five games and have won the season series for the second straight year.

The Trail Blazers are now 24-17 overall, their best record at the midway point of the season since 2014-15, 16-7 at home and have won four of their last five games.

"You think you should probably go in and win every game, but with that being said, I think we had the toughest schedule in the league for the first 41 games and to come out 24-17, we’re in a good place," said Stotts. "But it’s a long season and there’s not much you can do – you can’t look back on it. It’s a long season and every game is going to be competitive.”

For a brief moment at the start of Monday’s game, it looked as though the Trail Blazers might bring the kind of effort that would allow them to all but put the game away in the first half. The Knicks had to call a timeout after Jusuf Nurkić scored the first six points of the game, failed to score for the first three minutes and didn’t net their first field goal until the 7:45 mark of the first quarter.

But after jumping out to a fast start, the Trail Blazers were quickly lulled into a false sense of security, resulting in poor defense, a few head-scratching turnovers and unnecessary fouls, which proved to be the most detrimental of their mistakes born of lackadaisical play.

"I though the first couple minutes we did good then I don't know what happened," said Nurkić. "Their record not necessarily show how they play. You never know who they're going to play or how they're going to play. We just need to take the game serious for us."

It would continue on that way for the entirety of the first half, with the Knicks at one point leading by as many as six points before the Trail Blazers closed the second quarter on a 7-1 run to take a 54-53 lead into the intermission.

With the first half behind them, the Trail Blazers came out of the break like a team that knew one quarter of quality play would be enough to get a win. After Portland's initial salvo gave the home team their first double digit lead at 65-55 with 7:18 to play in the quarter, an 11-1 run capped by three Damian Lillard free throws gave the Trail Blazers their largest advantage of the night at 86-68 with a minute to play in the third.

The Knicks would get the lead down to single digits just once thereafter, and that came with just 1:21 to play in regulation. All that was left was Jusuf Nurkić making a free throw with just over a minute to play to secure the last points of the game and a 10-point victory for Portland.

"We talked about some of the things that we were doing in the first half that we needed to do better," said Lillard. "We came out and fixed it. I thought there was a few loose balls, a few hustle plays that they showed at halftime that they got to, they was just outworking us and we were kind of playing their record instead of the team that they are even though they gave us a tough game in New York. Like I said, we fixed it and we had a much better second half and got another win.”

TOP PERFORMERS

Jusuf Nurkic led the Trail Blazers with 20 points (7-9 FG, 6-9 FT) to go with eight rebounds and one block. Nurkic has scored at least 20 points in four straight games and six of the last seven. He scored seven of his points in the fourth quarter.

Damian Lillard recorded 17 points (5-14 FG, 2-6 3-PT, 5-5 FT), four rebounds, nine assists and one steal. CJ McCollum had 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting (2-7 3-PT, 1-1 FT) to go with three re- bounds, two assists, one steal and one block.

Jake Layman recorded the first double-double of his career, finishing with 10 points (3-5 FG, 1-2 3-PT, 3-4 FT), 10 rebounds and four assists. His 10 rebounds and four assists were career highs. Evan Turner notched 10 points (3-4 FG, 1-1 3-PT, 3-5 FT), five rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes off the bench.

Al-Farouq Aminu had eight points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals. Seth Curry scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting (3-6 3-PT) to go with one rebound, one steal and one block.

Enes Kanter led the Knicks with 18 points (8-12 FG, 2-5 FT) and 14 rebounds off the bench. Noah Vonleh had a double-double of 16 points (5-12 FG, 3-5 3-PT, 3-4 FT) and 14 rebounds to go with two assists.

NOTABLE

• Portland improved its record to 24-17 through 41 games. It is the team’s best record at the midpoint of the regular season since the 2014-15 season (30-11).

• The Trail Blazers swept the season series against the Knicks for the second straight season.

• The Trail Blazers outrebounded the Knicks, 51-48. It was the fourth time in the last five games that Portland had at least 50 rebounds.

• Portland had 20 second chance points on 12 offensive rebounds. New York scored 12 second chance points off of 14 offensive boards.

• Both teams had 49 bench points and 46 points in the point. All five of Portland’s reserves who played scored at least seven points.

• Portland recorded six blocks and seven steals while the Knicks had two blocks and nine steals.

• The Trail Blazers dished out 25 assists on 40 made field goals while the Knicks had 18 assists on 36 field goals.

QUOTABLE

"I like the fact that we’ve had a little bit of ups and downs already. We’ve experienced some adversity early in the season and we got through it. We got to the midway point feeling good about ourselves.”  -- Damian Lillard

NEXT UP

The Trail Blazers continue a five-game homestand and a three-game run of games versus teams from the Eastern Conference with a tilt versus the Chicago Bulls. Tipoff is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m.