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Postgame Thoughts on Blazers-Knicks
Some morning-after observations on Portland's Friday night overtime win at Madison Square Garden.
As I mentioned at the top of the latest episode of the podcast, I've been helping out my friend Annie Peterson while she's covering the World Cup in Qatar, working games all weekend for the Associated Press at the PK85 tournament. It's been fun to check in on the world of college basketball for a few days, which I don't normally keep up with much at all. But the gig meant I wasn't able to watch Friday night's Trail Blazers game against the Knicks live.
I went back and watched it on DVR this morning and wrote down some thoughts. (A note: I'll be working the final day of the tournament tomorrow, so I'll also miss the Nets game as it happens. I'll do the same thing later as I'm doing here.)
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We have to start with Jerami Grant, who had the best all-around game of his pro career against the Knicks and set new franchise records for free throws attempted and made. The role he's found with the Blazers remains ideal for the level of player he is. He's not an every-night No. 1 scoring option, but if they need that from time to time during a long road trip when Damian Lillard is out, he's good for it. Dropping a career high at Madison Square Garden won't hurt his All-Star case, either.
Grant's career night was the only thing that could overshadow Anfernee Simons' 38 points, and here's the part that was encouraging about it: Simons didn't rack up a bunch of points just by getting hot from three like he has in his other big games this season. In fact, he didn't shoot well at all from beyond the arc (4-for-13). But he got to the line and was very efficient on his two-point shots, both layups and floaters. It's important that he finds other ways to score when the threes aren't falling, and he did that Friday.
After being plagued by turnovers in the first two games of the road trip, the Blazers played a very clean game on Friday, only giving the ball up 12 times. And only two of those I thought were egregious, both committed by Josh Hart. In the first quarter, Hart attempted a behind-the-back pass out to the corner that went to no one. He was looking for Trendon Watford, who forgot to rotate over to the corner. That's one that will be corrected in film sessions as Watford, who missed the first part of the season with a hip injury, continues to get acclimated. The other bad turnover was a stolen inbounds pass early in the fourth quarter, which Hart threw right to Immanuel Quickley for an open layup. But overall, much better on the turnover front in this game.
Those turnovers were the only negative thing to say about Hart's night. It was in many ways a definitive game for what he brings to this team. He was everywhere—10 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals before fouling out in overtime. 19 rebounds for a guard is ridiculous, but that's Hart.
Jusuf Nurkic knocked down two more three-pointers, both wide-open looks. He's shooting 48 percent from deep this season on a career-high 1.6 attempts per game. I still don't love the idea of actively drawing up plays for him to shoot from out there, as they did on a couple of the ones he missed. But if he's wide open, he's right to shoot it.
Minus a few bad turnovers, Nurkic played an excellent overall game on Friday. He was aggressive getting to the rim, defended and moved the ball well. Considering how much was asked of him as the only true center available with Drew Eubanks out and playing 38 minutes in an overtime game, he did well.
The Blazers really, really missed Eubanks, who was sidelined with back spasms. The Knicks were getting whatever they wanted in the paint, outscoring Portland inside 64-50. As of Saturday afternoon, Eubanks is officially listed as questionable for tomorrow's game in Brooklyn.
Another quiet game for Shaedon Sharpe, who's in the first real slump of his NBA career after the start that made him the talk of the league for a week or so. Sharpe actually looked good when he was out there, but his 13 minutes were by far the fewest of anybody who got in the game for the Blazers. After the first game of the road trip, Sharpe lost his spot in the starting lineup to Justise Winslow as Chauncey Billups opted to give more minutes to veterans to get the Blazers out of their losing skid. It worked on Friday, and I would expect Winslow to stay in the starting lineup going forward until Damian Lillard comes back. Sharpe will be fine. Every rookie goes through this.
Speaking of Lillard, I've heard he's feeling good after re-aggravating his right calf in the loss to the Jazz last Saturday, but I wouldn't expect him back for another week. This is just an educated guess, not based on new intel, but I would bet they hold him out for Tuesday's game at home against the Clippers and the following two-game road swing to play the Jazz and Lakers. The logical game for his return would be next Sunday at home against the Pacers, which kicks off a four-game homestand and is followed by three days off before their next game, against Denver.
The Knicks' big first- and second-half runs were more a product of difficult shot-making by Jalen Brunson than any defensive breakdowns. I actually thought the Blazers defended well Friday for the most part.
Even with the losing skid and defensive regression (they've fallen from top-10 to 17th in defensive rating in the past week), one positive thing that's held is that Portland is continuing to defend without fouling. They only committed 24 fouls against the Knicks on Friday, which is very good for an overtime game against a physical Tom Thibodeau-coached team. Overall on the season, they remain tied with Denver and Washington as committing the fourth-fewest personal fouls per game at 19.5.