Houston was kept under control by the Portland Trail Blazers, who used their superior depth to pull away for a 99-91 victory over the Knicks.
Fighting for a playoff berth in the muddled Eastern Conference, the Knicks began a crucial six-game road trip with wins over Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers.
On Sunday, Houston lit up the Lakers for a league season-high 53 points. He added 27 in this one, but that was not enough to overcome the talented Trail Blazers.
“You’re in a good position to start this road trip with three wins and then you just let it slip,” said Houston, who made 8-of-18 shots. “It was a strange game. A weird game, a lot of bobbled plays. It was one of those games where you really had to stay focused and poised, and we didn’t have our poise at the end of the game.”
“Allan Houston is a good player, great shooter, and you can’t leave him open or he’ll knock it down,” Portland defensive demon Ruben Patterson said. “But we just tried to get up on him and deny him. He hit some tough shots, but we got the win.”
Portland built an 11-point second-quarter lead, surrendered it, then reclaimed it for good in the third quarter, taking a 76-70 advantage into the final period.
The Blazers played much of the fourth quarter with a lineup that included starting guard Derek Anderson and four reserves. One was 7-3 center Arvydas Sabonis, who had two baskets and a pair of pretty behind-the-back passes as Portland pulled away.
“Our bench really stepped up and helped us out,” Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. “I thought this game could have gone either way. It was nip and tuck. We’d get a little lead, and then they’d come back with their 3-point shooting, but I thought our bench at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth helped us separate from them.”
Rasheed Wallace scored 23 points for the Blazers, who shot 51 percent (40-of-78) from the field as they swept the two-game season series for the first time since the 1995-96 campaign
Kurt Thomas had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks, who shot just 40 percent (36-of-90).
“We just weren’t very sharp,” Knicks coach Don Chaney said. “We have those nights and I was hoping this would not be one of them, but we just didn’t have the sharpness at all.”
A 3-pointer by Wallace gave the Blazers the lead for good at 56-53 with 7:54 left in the third quarter. He scored eight points in the period, which ended with Portland holding a 76-70 lead.
The Knicks got no closer, missing their first six shots of the fourth quarter. A hook by Sabonis made it 82-73 with 7:50 to play.
“Sabonis was a big factor,” Cheeks said. “He’s such a good passer and tonight we wanted to get some offense from him. We put Sabas in the game and we went to him. He doesn’t always look for his offense, but tonight he hit some shots for us.”
Sabonis threw a behind-the-back bounce pass to Anderson, who drilled a 3-pointer for a 91-81 advantage with 4:54 remaining. After two free throws by Houston, Zach Randolph made a short bank shot, then took another fancy feed from Sabonis for an inside bucket.
“When you get Sabonis the ball, you might see four guys cutting at the same time because you know he’s going to pass it,” Portland’s Bonzi Wells said. “When Sabas gets the ball, if he doesn’t shoot that sweeper hook quick, get back there and get a backdoor. He’ll get the ball to you. I don’t care how he’s going to get it to you - behind the back, he’s going to grip it and throw it over, but he’s going to get it to you.”
“He was huge,” Thomas said. “He’s a great passer. He’s got a great touch. You’ve got to play him inside and outside. His passing ability is unbelievable.”
A pull-up jumper by Jeff McInnis gave Portland its largest lead at 97-83 with 2:44 to go.
Anderson scored 14 points, Wells added 13 and Sabonis and Patterson added 10 apiece for the Blazers, whose bench held a 36-15 scoring edge.
“This is a family. These are my brothers,” said Wells, a starter who sat for nearly the entire fourth quarter. “When you see your brothers go out there and play well and be successful, you’re very happy for them.”
“Our bench has done a very good job for us in coming in and giving our starters a breather,” Chaney said. “We just had no sharpness for the entire team, not just the starters, but the bench did not do well, either.”
Consecutive layups by Patterson and a jumper by Scottie Pippen helped the Blazers build a 47-36 lead late in the second quarter.
But Charlie Ward and Houston closed the half with 3-pointers, and Howard Eisley set up two baskets by Houston and another by Harrington to open the second half, giving New York a 48-47 lead. Eisley handed out 12 assists.