The Knicks have been through the gauntlet of opposing point guards during their West Coast trip.
On Sunday night, they finally let one take over the game before their own rookie point guard nearly stole the show in a comeback that fell just short.
Damian Lillard started 8-for-8 from the field and finished with 39 points, with the Trail Blazers needing every last one of them to withstand Immanuel Quickley’s late surge and hand the Knicks their second straight loss, 116-113, in Portland.
“Quite a big hole,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of the 25-point deficit the Knicks tried to overcome. “We expended so much energy trying to get out of it and at the end we fell short. It’s something we’ve got to take a hard look at.”
Lillard’s big night created a deficit that was too tall to overcome, despite the Knicks’ furious fourth-quarter push. After trailing by as many as 25 points in the third quarter, the Knicks cut the Trail Blazers’ lead to as few as four points thanks to yet another jolt from Quickley. In 24 minutes off the bench, he scored a career-high 31 points, 21 of them coming in the fourth quarter to fuel the Knicks’ comeback attempt.
“It was a really great effort from our whole team,” said Quickley, who drained five 3s. “We’re a team that never quits. We’ll never give up. I’m really proud of the guys and the way we fought.”
A Quickley 3 got the Knicks within 96-91 with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter and later, he drew a foul and hit three free throws to make it 112-109 with 16.6 seconds to go.
On Quickley’s third free throw, Julius Randle was called for a foul on Robert Covington while trying to box out. It appeared that ex-Knick Enes Kanter may have pushed Randle’s arm into Covington’s face, but the Trail Blazers got two free throws out of it and the Knicks never got any closer.
“They told me they got it wrong, after the game,” Randle said. “After they reviewed it, they said it should have been a loose-ball foul, two shots my way and a technical foul, which is three points. We lost by three, so it’s a tough break.”
After giving up 70 points in the first half, the Knicks tightened up in the second half and double-teamed Lillard late, which nearly made the difference. Still, Lillard sank a pair of free throws with 5.3 seconds left to hold off the Knicks.
After keeping Stephen Curry and De’Aaron Fox relatively in check on the first two games of the trip, the Knicks were nearly wrecked by Lillard. The Trail Blazers star didn’t miss a shot until 4:36 into the third quarter, ending the night 11-for-17 from the field, 6-for-10 from beyond the arc and 11-for-11 from the free-throw line to go with eight assists and five rebounds.
The Knicks had entered the game tied for the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, but Lillard and the Trail Blazers (9-6) showed little regard for it early. They had not played since last Monday, with a pair of games postponed in between due to the Grizzlies’ COVID-19 issues, but didn’t have to spend any time knocking off the rust.
Quickley did his best to keep the Knicks in the game, delivering 10 points and three assists while playing the entire second quarter. But the Trail Blazers still went into the half with a 70-50 lead, thanks to their 25 of 43 shooting performance from the field.
“I thought our fight in the second half was obviously a lot better than the first half,” Thibodeau said. “We have to make sure we play with an edge. We have to come out ready to go.”