NEW YORK — The New York Knicks might be correct in believing they’re much better than their record indicates, but the losses keep piling up and their season might be already be slipping away.
Leading by two points after a Carmelo Anthony layup, the Knicks (4-18) allowed the Portland Trailblazers to score eight of the last 10 points, over the final 3½ minutes, to win, 103-99, and hand New York its eighth consecutive loss at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
While the Trailblazers (16-4) began a season-long, five-game road trip with their sixth straight road win (after starting their road schedule with a pair of losses), the Knicks lost by seven or fewer points for a 13th time this year.
Aside from a 27-point defeat in Oklahoma City, on November 28, New York has lost by one, three, four, five (twice) and seven (twice, once in overtime) points during its current losing streak.
“We’re not far away,” a dejected yet hopeful Anthony said in front of his locker afterwards. “The games that we’re losing, we’re right there, coming down to the stretch. You look at our record and say, ‘We’re far, far away,’ But… the games that we’re losing, we’re not that far away. We’ve just got to fix a couple things, whatever that may be. We first have to figure out what we have to fix coming down the stretch of basketball games.”
One of those things is making stops late in games, something that the Knicks were was once again unable to do.
With Portland trailing, 97-96, star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who posted game highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds, scored six straight points to give the Trailblazers a 102-99 lead, with 1:18 remaining.
Complementing Aldridge, Portland’s starting backcourt of Damian Lillard (20 points) and Wesley Matthews (18 points) outscored New York’s, 38-15, as Iman Shumpert (11 points) and Jose Calderon (four points) were held in check despite 23 points and 10 rebounds from Anthony, 16 points and 10 boards from center Amar’e Stoudemire and 20 points (on hot 8-of-12 shooting) in 25 minutes from reserve guard J.R. Smith.
Despite the poor record and the losing streak, optimism reigns. The Garden crowd was playoff loud at several points during the fourth quarter, and after the game, the message on a white board near Anthony’s locker displayed a bible passage saying, “The pain you have been feeling can’t compare to the joy that [is] coming.”
For now, that remains the overall feeling in the Knicks’ locker room until they can start winning. But against Portland, another slow start had New York trying to catch up again.
Aldridge scored seven of the Trailblazers’ first 16 points, as Portland ran out to a 19-10 lead after a left-corner 3-pointer by reserve guard Allen Crabbe (six points) capped a 9-2 run.
The Knicks answered with an 8-2 spurt, which ended on a jumper by Anthony, who led New York with eight points and four rebounds in the opening quarter. Portland scored the next four points before settling for a 25-20 lead as the period expired.
Sparked by their bench, the Knicks took a 38-31 lead on an 20-6 run that spanned each of the first two quarters, as Smith made a trio of 3-pointers before fellow reserve guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (seven points) ended the stretch with five straight points.
However, the Trailblazers closed the half on a 22-12 spurt, to lead, 53-50, after a desperation, running 3-pointer by Anthony rimmed out just before the halftime buzzer.
A layup by center Robin Lopez (six points, eight rebounds) and a long, open 3-pointer by Lillard to start the second half, extended Portland’s lead to eight points, but Anthony closed a 13-5 run and tied the game at 63-all on a nice post-up, turnaround jumper from the left elbow.
Leading by four points, the Trailblazers used an 8-4 spurt to lead, 85-73. But Stoudemire ended the third quarter on a jumper, and layups by Hardaway and Smith to start the final period, brought New York to within 83-79.
Portland responded again, as Matthews went on a personal 9-2 run, with a three-point play and a pair of treys, to put his team up, 92-81. Seven points by Anthony, though, keyed a 16-3 surge that moved the Knicks ahead, 97-95, on an Anthony layup, with 3:32 left.
After Lillard made one of two free throws, Aldridge put the Trailblazers up for good.
Anthony and forward Nicolas Batum traded misses, and New York called a time out with 48.2 seconds left.
Trying to get a shot off, Anthony was bottled up on the right wing, and instead passed to the opposite wing, where reserve guard Pablo Prigioni (scoreless on three shots in 24 minutes) missed an open 3-pointer.
Aldridge missed a jumper on the next possession, but Lopez grabbed one of Portland’s 16 offensive rebounds with 8.8 seconds to go, and New York waited too long to foul Aldridge, who made one of two free throws to close the scoring, with 1.7 seconds left.
Acknowledging the boisterous backing from the Garden crowd in spite of the Knicks’ dismal record, Anthony said, “We’re going to continue to need that support. There’s no need [for them] to turn their backs on us right now. We’re going out there, we’re putting forth the effort, we’re doing what we have to do to be in basketball games at the end of the games, we’re just not pulling it out. The results are something that we don’t like and we’ve got to fix that.”
Similarly looking at the positives in the midst of a losing streak which has now surpassed an earlier seven-game losing skid this season, Stoudemire said, “Tonight, we fought. We came out with some aggressiveness. We battled, there was a lot of effort put forth out there.
“Guys were truly playing with their hearts tonight. There’s no moral victories, but I think tonight was a step towards something that we’ve got to continue to do… tonight, we played solid and had a chance to win… we’re almost there… at this point, the record is what it is. We can’t dwell on that. But we have to continue to try and improve. We’ve got a tough road trip coming up, but tonight was [against] a team that’s one of the top teams in this league, and we had a chance to win. So, we’re right there, we’ve just got to keep pushing.”
Going away from home, where New York has lost nine straight games since winning its road opener in Cleveland, the Knicks will travel to New Orleans on Tuesday before making stops in San Antonio and Boston later in the week.