The New York Knicks nearly pulled off an improbable comeback from a 25-point deficit on the road.
Almost but not quite.
Dame Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers squandered a 25-point lead but did just enough to score a nerve-wracking 116-113 win over the Knicks Sunday night.
The Knicks’ 25th pick Immanuel Quickley single-handedly led the Knicks’ spirited chase that fell short with a career-high 31 points.
â€œItâ€™s impressive again. I think that shotmaking is a huge asset for our team. Thatâ€™s something that we need. He gets better with each outing, puts pressure on people,” said Tom Thibodeau of his quick-rising rookie point guard.
Quickley played with veteran poise down the stretch.
The rookie out of Kentucky pumped in 21 points in the final quarter as the Knicks came close to pulling off what could have been a colossal upset. But a Julius Randle costly foul doomed their failed comeback attempt.
After Quickley completed three free throws that cut Portland’s lead to three, 112-109, Randle inadvertently hit Robert Covington in a rebounding battle.
Randle’s sixth foul led to Covington two free throws that gave the Trail Blazers a five-point cushion in the final 16.6 seconds.
“[Officials] told me they got it wrong after the game,” Randle said.
“After they reviewed it, they said it should have been two shots — a loose ball foul — two shots my way and a technical foul, which is three points, and we lost by three. Tough break,” he added.
It was a loss that felt like a win for these rebuilding Knicks. A 25-point deficit and a red-hot Lillard would have easily intimidated the past Knicks team. But not this year’s version.
The Trail Blazers started the game like a house on fire. They were red-hot from deep with 12 three-pointers in the opening half.
Thibodeau’s Knicks, who once limited the Boston Celtics to just 75 points earlier this season, allowed an uncharacteristic 70-first half-point in Portland.
With Lillard scoring at will and the Knicks having a tough time against the zone, the Trail Blazers enjoyed their biggest lead, 77-52, early in the third quarter.
But instead of surrendering and looking forward to their next road game against the surging Utah Jazz on Tuesday, the Knicks showed plenty of fight.
Alec Burks, in his first start in place of injured Reggie Bullock, scored 12 points in the third quarter as the Knicks made it a 12-point game.
That’s when Quickley took over and took matters into his own hands.
Quickley shot 9-for-18 and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the line. He hit five three-pointers on his way to the Knicks’ record books as the second rookie with at least 30 points and five threes off the bench.
The wily Quickley added three rebounds and four assists. But what made his performance more epic was the manner he did it.
Quickley was hitting threes, floaters, lefty drives, and baited the dumbfounded Trail Blazers to head-scratching fouls with surgical precision. He only needed 24 minutes to register a new career-high.
He was the Knicks’ answer to Lillard, who had 39 points, six three-pointers, and eight assists to pace the short-handed Trail Blazers.
Anfernee Simons and ex-Knick Carmelo Anthony combined for 28 points off the bench for Portland, which missed key starters CJ McCollum (foot injury) and Jusuf Nurkic (wrist fracture).
Randle had another impressive all-around performance before exiting the game. The 26-year old forward had 25 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals.
Burks finished with 18 points on 5-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc. RJ Barrett had a quiet eight points and rode the bench when the Knicks mounted a comeback.
The Knicks rode on Quickleyâ€™s back. And they almost pulled it.
It remains to be seen how much longer Thibodeau will keep Quickley from starting after making another strong case.
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