Lillard, Blazers top Knicks, ruin Stoudemire's return

Dave Buscema, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Portland Trail Blazers rookie point guard Damian Lillard savored the atmosphere of a tense game in his Madison Square Garden debut.
New York fans were especially hyped for the New Year's Day matchup, with Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire making his season debut and MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony on his way to a 45-point night after missing two games with a knee injury.
But even after Anthony had the Garden fans screaming when his 3-pointer brought New York within three with 57.1 seconds left, Lillard didn't flinch.
The top Rookie of the Year candidate calmly answered with his own 3-pointer, helping Portland hold off the Knicks for a 105-100 win.
"We had the lead, we were up three and we wanted to flatten them out," said Lillard, who scored 21 points, including seven in the fourth quarter, and added six assists. He added matter-of-factly, "Even if it didn't go in, it'd still be a two-possession game or they'd have to make a 3.
"I liked the whole vibe of the arena, from warmups to the last second when the crowd started to rise when Melo was bringing the ball up."
Anthony, as he often has in the fourth quarter this year, persisted, hitting a layup and foul shot to make it 103-100 with 29.3 seconds left.
However, Anthony missed an off-balance 3-point shot that would have tied the game on the Knicks' next possession, and Portland guard Wesley Matthews hit two free throws to seal the victory.
"I will take that shot any time," Anthony said of his missed 3-pointer. "I was trying to get a quick one. If I make that shot, we tie the game up, and if I don't, we still have a chance to get the offensive rebound and get something out of that."
The Knicks (21-10) got something out of the loss, welcoming back Stoudemire, who played his first game in nine months following left knee surgery. While Stoudemire admitted being rusty at the start, when he missed his first five shots, including several easy attempts, he took solace in stepping up during the second half.
He finished with six points in nearly 17 minutes, including a one-handed slam in the third quarter off an assist from J.R. Smith, who scored 28 points. The play earned Stoudemire another loud ovation, to go with the long standing ovation he received when he first stepped on the court with 3:31 remaining in the first quarter.
"I almost shed a tear when I walked on the court with the standing ovation. It was a phenomenal feeling," said Stoudemire, who added the game felt like it was "going 100 miles per hour" at times. "I was a little rusty. My second half was better than my first half, and hopefully my second game will be better than my first."
Nicolas Batum scored 26 points, LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points and 14 rebounds, and J.J. Hickson scored 18 for Portland (16-14).
Portland, just 5-10 on the road this season, began a four-game road trip with its most impressive victory away from home this year. The Blazers led by as many as 19 in the first half before holding off the Knicks' late run.
"Obviously, it was a great win for us," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "We've been struggling on the road, and to get a win like this in the Garden against a good team like this was something that we haven't had yet this year."
Several Knicks lamented the team's recent trend of falling behind early by large deficits.
"For some reason, we respond to getting punched in the face," Smith said. "We've got to start fighting early."
The Blazers' 18-4 run to start the fourth quarter gave them a 96-81 lead with 4:34 left. Lillard and Aldridge each scored four points during that stretch.
New York countered with a 13-2 spurt to pull within 98-94 with 1:26 left on a leaping putback by Smith.
The Blazers stole the Knicks' spotlight in the first half, leading by as many as 19 points thanks largely to Hickson's 18 points, along with 12 from Lillard and 11 from Batum.
The Knicks cut the deficit to 58-47 at halftime as they finished the second quarter on an 11-4 run. Anthony, who scored New York's first 10 points, scored seven right before the break, including an eyebrow-raising 3-pointer with one-tenth of a second left as he frantically grabbed a loose ball and heaved in his shot from well behind the arc.
NOTES: Amid constant analysis about whether Stoudemire and Anthony can mesh well on the court together, Stoudemire is expected to come off the bench as he works his way back into playing shape. He said he was fine with a plan of limited minutes. "I'm ready to provide whatever my team needs for us to improve," he said. ... Anthony said his knee wasn't 100 percent but that it felt fine overall. ... Jason Kidd and Steve Novak were held scoreless for the Knicks. ... Knicks forward Rasheed Wallace (left foot) was out for the ninth consecutive game. ... Matthews had been considered questionable, but he returned for the Blazers after missing four straight games with a left hip injury. ... Blazers backup center Meyers Leonard was out because of a sprained right ankle, an injury he sustained Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

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