The Knicks gave their all against one of the league’s elite, but ultimately a lack of depth and scoring was their undoing in a 94-90 defeat to the Trail Blazers Wednesday night.
Carmelo Anthony was the lone Knicks starter to score in double digits with a game-high 26 points, but he was overmatched as all but one Blazers starter surpassed double figures.
Anthony had his own troubles as well, as he went scoreless in the fourth quarter in missing all five his shots.
“Well, it wasn’t like we didn’t get good looks,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “We had great looks from the 3-point line. Melo, J.R. [Smith] and Timmy [Hardaway Jr.] normally make those but tonight they struggled.”
The Knicks shot 40 percent from the field, including a paltry 4-of-21 (19 percent) on 3-pointers.
Portland (35-14) was led by Nicolas Batum’s 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He was aided by 18 points from Wes Matthews, 15 points from LaMarcus Aldridge and 11 points from All-Star point guard Damian Lillard.
The Knicks (19-30) played about as inspired a defensive game as they have all season, but not even an off night from the Blazers’ All-Star forward Aldridge (5-of-17 shooting) could help the undermanned home team.
Woodson, who had to be restrained after Anthony was called for an offensive foul with five minutes left and then immediately after the final buzzer, wasn’t happy with the officiating late.
“We didn’t get to the foul line enough [but] I felt we got hit a few times,” said Woodson. “Melo got hit late and I thought it was a clear foul. Yeah, he just came up short, but all you can do is to put your best players in position and hope they get it done.”
While Anthony had his own plight in the fourth, he got little help from his supporting cast, as the only players to surpass double digits for the Knicks were reserves Smith (18 points), Hardaway Jr. (12 points) and Amar’e Stoudemire (15 points).
Smith shot 50 percent from the field (7-of-14) and played under control for most of the night, but he reasoned that he could’ve had an even bigger impact had he let fly a few more shots in the fourth.
“They did a great job at closing out on our shooters, but at the same time we passed up good open looks, too. I passed up open looks to guys I thought might’ve had a clearer shot,” said Smith. “We need to do a better job of knocking down shots in transition and getting back to that drive-and-kick game. … And we also didn’t get to the line as well— and they shot a lot.”
Portland held a 33-20 advantage in free-throw attempts.
Woodson acknowledged the disparity in the attempts— and showed his displeasure in the fourth— but added the real culprit was that his team just couldn’t close the gap despite some solid defense.
The embattled coach said that despite the lack of offense in the fourth, he had no regrets in going with a defensive lineup— especially when it seemed as if the Knicks were about to ride their defense to a win when Pablo Prigioni got a huge steal at halfcourt that led to Hardaway Jr. nailing a 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to two points.
“I thought everyone who played tonight played pretty good. To hold that team to 94 points is great. We just didn’t knock down shots,” Woodson said.
Woodson chose not to play Stoudemire, who had one of his better games this season one day after complaining about a lack of playing time, down the stretch.
“I thought the [second] unit with [Jeremy] Tyler and Amar’e gave us a little spurt,” Woodson said. “I played Amar’e long stretches, but just decided to go defensive down the stretch and take him out and put Pablo in … and [Prigioni] gave us a spark with that steal.”
The steal could’ve been momentous for New York, but unraveling late is what got them in a hole. Anthony went missing in a forgettable fourth quarter, which was compounded by earning a technical foul after being whistled for a suspect offensive foul with five minutes remaining.
The biggest letdowns for the Knicks, however, came in the final two minutes as they blew multiple defensive assignments that allowed for easy wide-open looks for a Blazers team that struggled to score all game.
Portland shot just 38 percent from the field in a winning effort. But they showed their poise in the final seconds as Aldridge nailed a tough fadeaway jumper from 15 feet over the outstretched arm of Tyson Chandler with 35.5 seconds remaining to salt away the game.
“I felt we held Aldridge in check all game. Tyson [Chandler] did a great job and he [Aldridge] just made a hell of a shot that went in. But I thought we executed great on him,” Woodson said. “It’s been a challenge [because] we’ve had a lot of injuries and inconsistent play. It’s been a roller coaster ride. But tonight we competed and the defense held us in there. We just fell short down the stretch.”
Knicks notes …
» The Trail Blazers are one of the league’s elite teams due to a starting five that’s been as adhesive as any. Portland is the only team that hasn’t had a starter miss a game, as their quintet has started all 49 games so far.
» Stoudemire has been grumbling lately, and he rewarded his coach with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 22 quality minutes. Stoudemire had an impressive third quarter as he notched nine points, including one stretch when he registered nine-straight points for the Knicks.
»Raymond Felton sat the entire fourth quarter, as Woodson went with Prigioni. The veteran Felton took it in stride:
“Pablo was playing well and the team was flowing well,” Felton said. “There was no point of me going back out there. That’s why you have two or three point guards.”
» Prior to the game, Carmelo Anthony was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for January.
» Kenyon Martin (ankle) said prior to Wednesday night’s game he’ll shut it down to recuperate and will return after the All-Star break.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.