Lilliard leads Trail Blazers past Knicks
NEW YORK — The New York Knicks are quickly discovering the importance of Enes Kanter to their young squad.
The Knicks lost their third straight game with Kanter sidelined because of back spasms, falling to the visiting Portland Trail Blazers 103-91 on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
Even the return of Kristaps Porzingis from a one-game absence was not enough for the Knicks to stem the tide.
Not with Damian Lillard playing at the top of his game.
Lillard scored 32 points, including 17 in the third quarter when Portland increased its lead to 26 after shooting 12 of 19 from the field. Lillard shot 5 of 7 from the field in the quarter and added 6 of 6 free throws.
New York (10-10) managed to cut Portland’s lead to eight with less than a minute left but was unable to get any closer as it shot just 9 of 23 from the field in the quarter.
“We can’t think we are anything other than a team that has to go out there and play all 48 minutes of the game,” New York head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “I thought the way we are supposed to play were only in the final 12 minutes.”
Porzingis, who missed the Knicks’ 117-102 loss at Houston on Saturday with a lower-back ailment, had 22 points to lead the Knicks. Porzingis shot just 6 of 16 from the field and New York’s second-leading scorer, Tim Hardaway Jr., likewise struggled from the field, shooting 6 of 18 for 16 points.
With Kanter out, Kyle O’Quinn got his third consecutive start for the Knicks and had eight points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. Kanter told reporters after the game that he felt ready to play but was held out for precautionary reasons.
“If they would have given me the green light, I definitely would have played tonight,” Kanter said. “I practiced this morning but they said I wasn’t ready. It is tough sitting in the locker room.”
Kanter’s defensive presence was missed as Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic and Noah Vonleh combined for 20 points and 21 rebounds. Nurkic added six assists. Pat Connaughton added 17 points for Portland on 7-of-9 shooting, getting off to a hot start with seven first-quarter points.
“That game was low energy from our guys, I felt,” Hornacek said. “In the fourth quarter, they picked guys up and got after it. They made guys shoot under duress. But we are not the team that is going to come out there, play and then turn it up later. We have to do it from the tip-off.”
The Trail Blazers (13-8) took control with a 7-0 run to break a 22-22 tie toward the end of the first quarter and kept up the momentum as CJ McCollum and Ed Davis combined for nine points in a 9-0 run to start the second.
“Tonight, from the start, we came out with the mentality that we needed to play the way we need to win in an environment like this,” Lillard said.
Lillard led a balanced offense early as the Trail Blazers built a 16-point halftime lead. All five Portland starters and three reserves had multiple first-half field goals as the Trail Blazers committed just four turnovers before halftime.
The Blazers got even hotter after the half, increasing their lead to 26 in the third quarter.
Portland concluded a five-game road trip on a high note, going 4-1 on the swing.
“I’ve been saying the entire time that we had to stay with it, have faith in each other,” Lillard said. “A lot of times, we were missing shots. We weren’t able to be consistent but now we have had some good games that we have stacked up.”
NOTES: Knicks C Joakim Noah made his first appearance of the season. He scored two points in three minutes. ... Portland F Al-Farouq Aminu missed his 13th consecutive game with an ankle injury. ... New York stays at home for a Wednesday matchup with the Miami Heat. ... On Thursday, Portland returns home for the first time since Nov. 18 when it hosts the Milwaukee Bucks.