Despite a heroic 45 points from Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks fell to the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, 105-100.
Huge individual scoring outputs and disappointing results aside, the big story in this one was the return of Amar'e Stoudemire, who came off the bench to play 17 minutes in his first action this season. The results were, at best, mixed for the Knicks' power forward, who looked a step slow and more than a little rusty.
He's clearly not ready to help the Knicks just yet.
Weak rebounding and a porous perimeter defense were the key strategic storylines for the Knicks in this one, but everyone will be talking about the brilliance of Anthony and the unanswered questions about Stoudemire's fit in New York's rotation.
In the interest of fairness, we've graded the performance of every Knick from tonight's game. But don't worry, we've devoted special attention to Stoudemire, whose night we picked apart from every angle.
Amar'e Stoudemire: D
When Amar'e Stoudemire walked to the scorer's table at the 3:31 mark in the first quarter, Madison Square Garden rose in unison, as the assembled fans collectively greeted their returning star with a standing ovation.
Things got a little quieter when Amar'e spun baseline on LaMarcus Aldridge on his first touch...and promptly stepped out of bounds.
The turnover on STAT's initial play turned out to be harbinger of things to come, as Stoudemire struggled in every facet of the game.
He missed his first five field-goal attempts, coming up short on jumpers and failing to create enough space to drop in a couple of close-range hooks in the paint. Despite his struggles, Stoudemire clearly had an aggressive mindset, as he looked for his own shot on every touch.
Defensively, things went from bad to worse.
Portland made a concerted effort to attack Stoudemire, making sure to involve him in repeated pick-and-pops when he was matched up with LaMarcus Aldridge and pick-and-rolls when he checked J.J. Hickson. Unable to move quickly enough to recover to Aldridge after showing on the ball-handler, Stoudemire surrendered a handful of wide-open jumpers to the Blazers' sweet-shooting big man.
And when he tried to stay with the more athletic Hickson on repeated rolls to the hoop, Stoudemire was even more exposed. Hickson waltzed to the bucket with impunity, hammering in dunks as Amar'e watched helplessly.
To be fair, there were actually two bright spots for Stoudemire.
One came on a nice weak-side block of an Aldridge layup, but even that turned out poorly for the Knicks, as Hickson pinned Amar'e on his back before securing an offensive rebound for an easy dunk. The other was a baseline dunk off of a J.R. Smith assist that showcased some pretty good elevation for a guy coming off of knee surgery.
Beyond that, Stoudemire was generally slow to help on D, and his late rotations yielded plenty of easy buckets for Hickson and a couple of spectacular layups from Damian Lillard.
From a tactical perspective, Woodson seemed committed to using Stoudemire with J.R. Smith and the second unit, but it was no coincidence that the Knicks made their biggest push during the early minutes of the third quarter and the end of the fourth. Stoudemire wasn't on the floor during either of those stretches.
Stoudemire avoids a failing grade because he's still obviously rusty after a long layoff and because it's still too early to tell what he'll do to the Knicks' solid chemistry. Still, it's hard to be encouraged by the shaky offense and downright awful defense he showed against the Blazers.
Jason Kidd: F
Kidd, playing increased minutes at the point in the absence of Raymond Felton, didn't exactly stuff the stat sheet against the Blazers. Usually, that's not a big problem for Kidd, who has a knack for impacting the game in ways that don't show up on paper.
But in this case, some of Kidd's "intangibles" were actually negative.
Even at his advanced age, the Knicks' point guard remains a very rugged, savvy defender...as long as he's guarding larger wings. When matched up with the Blazers' quicker smalls, especially the lightning-fast Damian Lillard, Kidd looked like his feet were cemented to the floor.
The mismatch with Lillard actually forced Mike Woodson to go with Pablo Prigioni for long stretches in the second half.
The veteran finished with zero points, three assists and three rebounds.
Kidd's brains and unselfish play are still huge reasons for the Knicks' overall success this year. But his age and lack of quickness was a major issue in this one.
Ronnie Brewer: D+
Ronnie Brewer's night was basically done after the second quarter. In his limited minutes, he scored just five points, grabbed one rebound and dished out one assist.
It certainly seemed that the Blazers' big, early lead and nearly constant double-digit advantage caused Woodson to bench Brewer in favor of players more capable of scoring in the second half.
While it was clear all night that the Knicks could have used a defensive presence on the wings to bother Nic Batum (26 points on 13 shots), it's hard to argue with Woodson's decision. Big minutes from J.R. Smith in place of Brewer very nearly led to an improbable comeback.
When Brewer was actually on the floor, he was fine, but because his offensive limitations kept him on the bench in key periods of this one, we're knocking his final grade down a bit.
Carmelo Anthony: A+
Carmelo Anthony returned to the Knicks' starting lineup, and coach Mike Woodson didn't waste any time working him back into the flow of things. 'Melo got a touch in the high post on New York's first possession and promptly drew a two-shot foul on Wesley Matthews.
The points kept coming for Anthony, as he scored the first 10 Knick points and finished the first quarter with 13.
'Melo was the only source of consistent offense in the first half, but his 24 points before the break came on isolations and post-ups, and not in the flow of the offense, which is where the Knicks enjoyed so much success in the season's first six weeks.
On the night, Anthony finished with a brilliant 45 points, seven rebounds and four assists on 14-of-24 shooting, so it's hard to pin responsibility for this loss on him. But as the team's best player and leader, it's always fair to ask whether he could have done a little more. In this instance, "more" would have included better tenacity on defense and a greater effort on the boards.
We're nitpicking, though. Anthony played an excellent game and battled through persistent double-teams in the second half. 'Melo found the open man when the ball was forced out of his hands, and it was the supporting cast that failed to step up and help out its star.
This was a spectacular performance by Anthony, especially considering it was his first game back from the knee injury that kept him out of the last two contests.
Kurt Thomas: F
Two fouls in the game's first five minutes put Thomas on the bench early, but more than that, they illustrated the ancient forward's inability to defend athletic bigs.
J.J. Hickson was too quick, while LaMarcus Aldridge dragged Thomas out of his comfort zone near the bucket.
Perhaps sensing the unfavorable matchup, Mike Woodson opted to start Marcus Camby at the 4 in the second half. It's not every day that inserting a 38-year-old into the second-half lineup results in a younger look, but that's what the Knicks got by sitting Thomas after the break.
If you're expecting more on Thomas' night, you're going to be disappointed. He totaled just four minutes, all of which were in the first quarter.
Going forward, it's hard to believe that Thomas is going to have an impact on the Knicks' season anyplace outside of the locker room. He's just not capable of handling younger, more athletic assignments.
Tyson Chandler: C-
It's hard to speak highly of Chandler's impact in the middle when the Blazers out-rebound the Knicks by a healthy 47-37 margin. Without excusing that overall disadvantage, Chandler gets a little credit for buying the Knicks a few extra possessions with six offensive boards.
The Knicks' center shot his typical high percentage, though he clearly missed the constant lobs from Felton.
Overall, Chandler's defensive presence couldn't overcome some shoddy perimeter D from the Knicks' wings. Easy penetration and interior passing by the Blazers' guards forced Chandler to scramble all night long, which resulted in 48 Portland points in the paint.
It was a rough one for Chandler, but he certainly didn't play as poorly as Kidd, Stoudemire or the Knicks' bench. Consider that your glass-half-full analysis for the Knicks' center.
J.R. Smith: A
J.R. Smith usually enters the game with a set of jumper cables, but he certainly didn't get the engine running for the Knicks in the first half. He went just 3-of-8 before the break, but nobody other than 'Melo had much going until the second half, so he wasn't alone in his scoring struggles.
As the Knicks climbed back into the game in the second half, Smith stayed aggressive and chipped in a couple of key buckets. He even bought New York a couple of extra possessions with some impressive hustle plays on the defensive end.
On the whole, Smith totaled 28 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Plus, his energy was a key in the Knicks' desperate—but ultimately unsuccessful—push in the fourth quarter's waning minutes.
Other than taking a few too many threes, there's not a ton to criticize about the performance from the Knicks' sixth man.
Bench Grade: F
Mike Woodon dug deep into his bench in search of an answer to New York's early woes, but none of the reserves provided the defensive intensity or scoring punch the Knicks needed to stave off the Blazers' energetic attack.
Steve Novak couldn't buy a bucket, finishing with zero points on 0-of-5 shooting. As a strict perimeter specialist, the Knicks really can't justify leaving Novak on the floor if he's not hitting from downtown. Despite his struggles, he played 20 minutes.
Pablo Prigioni, pressed into increased duty with Felton out, tried admirably to involve Stoudemire in a handful of pick-and-rolls, but very little materialized there. He finished with two points and three assists.
Chris Copeland warrants a mention here—not because he was particularly productive, but because he managed to fire off five shots in seven minutes. He made one.
A major strength all season long, the Knicks' bench gets a failing grade in this one.