One of the most glaring issues for the New York Knicks the last several years has been point guard play. Fans of the blue and orange have been begging and pleading for a productive floor general for what seems like an eternity. Saturday at Madison Square Garden the Knicks two current lead guards complemented each other well as New York pulled away for a 110-99 win over Portland. It was the second win in a row for Tom Thibodeau’s club. The Trail Blazers had beaten New York at home just two weeks ago.
Elfrid Payton was stellar for the second game in a row, scoring 22 points. Rookie Immanuel Quickley only played 13 minutes, but scored 12 points including a pair of deep three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Both also contributed to making life difficult for Portland’s superstar guard Damian Lillard.
Even though Lillard was playing through an abdominal injury that caused him to miss Thursday’s game in Philadephia, he still managed to score 29 points. However, that was 10 fewer than he scored in the previous meeting. Most importantly, the New York defense stymied Lillard and the rest of the Trail Blazers perimeter snipers in the closing minutes.
“We had to obviously take care of the problem, which is Dame. He’s the head of the snake for them. He creates most of the problems,” Julius Randle said “We just tried to show him as many bodies as we could.”
RJ Barrett added, “Dame is such a great player. We just tried to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible. [Mitchell Robinson] did a great job of trapping and EP [Payton] did a great job of chasing him around.”
Portland fashioned a 31-26 lead after the first quarter behind the three-point shooting of Lillard, Gary Trent Jr. and Robert Covington. Anfernee Simons also was hitting from beyond the arc off the bench. New York finished the second quarter on a 16-5 run. Payton capped the spurt with a rare trey. The Knicks held a 57-51 advantage at the half.
A mini 4-0 run propelled the Knicks to 61-51 to begin the third. Covington and Lillard traded threes with Randle as New York tried to maintain a double-digit margin. The Trail Blazers whittled the lead to five several times. Somehow the Knicks always seemed to have the answer as they led 84-76 heading to the final stanza.
In the fourth the Knicks built a 15-point lead. Barrett was aggressive getting to the rim. Quickley connected on a pair of long bombs to ignite a scoring barrage. Payton scored on a dunk off of a steal. A pretty Euro-step by Barrett may have been the highlight of the game.
Portland managed to pull within seven late before New York closed it out. The three-pointing shooting that had ignited the Trail Blazers all afternoon hindered them in the final minutes. They misfired on eight straight treys down the stretch.
Randle finished with a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds. Barrett scored 18 points and Alec Burks 16. Reggie Bulllock chipped in 10 more.
Trent Jr. contributed 19 for Portland. Covington and former Knick Enes Kanter had 13 and Simons 12.
New York didn’t record their 11th win last season until their 40th game. Still, Thibodeau is not content, acknowledging that their is still plenty to improve on.
“I don’t want us to feel too good about where we are, because right now there’s a long way to go,” Thibodeau said. “But in this league, the one thing I do know is as soon as you start feeling too good about yourself that’s usually when you get knocked down.”
The Knicks will be gunning for their third win in a row when they host Miami in a Super Bowl Sunday matinee. Tip off is at 1 p.m.
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool)