Amare Stoudemire stood up from the bench and the fans rose with him, a booming ovation filling Madison Square Garden as Stoudemire walked to the scorer’s table to enter a game for the first time this season.
The cheers turned to boos just a few minutes later when the Knicks couldn’t stop the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Trail Blazers overcame Carmelo Anthony’s season high-tying 45 points and spoiled Stoudemire’s season debut, beating New York 105-100 on Tuesday night.
Stoudemire finished with six points on 3-of-8 shooting and one rebound in 17 minutes off the bench in his return from knee surgery. He said he nearly shed a tear with the loud appreciation the fans showed him when he checked in, but he couldn’t give them anything to keep the cheers going in the first half.
“I felt good,” Stoudemire said. “The game felt like it was going 100 mph that first half. Had a couple of easy-looking shots, open shots, just a little bit rusty, wasn’t able to knock those down. But the second half was better than my first half. Hopefully my second game will be better than my first game.”
Nicolas Batum scored 26 points, rookie Damian Lillard had 21 points, six assists and five rebounds, and LaMarcus Aldridge had 19 points and 14 rebounds for Portland, which avenged a 121-79 loss here last March 14.
“When we came last year, that was the biggest loss of my career. Down 42, that was real embarrassing,” Batum said. “The only thing on my mind when I came in was just put (down) the stat sheet from last year. That was my motivation for tonight.”
Anthony shot 14 of 24 and nearly led the Knicks back from 19 points down after missing two games with a knee injury, but the Trail Blazers had too many options.
J.J. Hickson scored all of his 18 points in the first half as Portland won for the third time in four games.
“This was big time for us. I think we’re gaining confidence every day,” Lillard said. “Every day that we see ourselves on film, we see the improvements that we’ve been making and we’re getting better. We’re starting to trust each other more and we’re jelling a lot better than we were and it’s showing.”
Anthony had missed the previous two games with a hyperextended left knee. The Knicks are still without point guard Raymond Felton because of a broken pinky finger and struggled to get their offense going until too late, losing for the third time in four games.
J.R. Smith had 28 points and 11 rebounds for the Knicks, but Jason Kidd was scoreless and missed all five shots in 33 minutes.
Stoudemire had surgery on Oct. 31 to clean up tissue in his left knee and decided to play after going through a couple of practices this week, though adding he wasn’t yet 100 percent. The former All-Star who has battled injuries in recent years was clearly rusty but showed he can still finish at the rim when set up properly.
Coach Mike Woodson wouldn’t say how long Stoudemire would remain a reserve. Stoudemire and Anthony have struggled to play together and the Knicks have a losing record when both play, but Woodson has said the Knicks need both of them on the floor to have a shot at a championship.
“We got him some easy shots tonight. A little rusty but that was expected, he expected that tonight,” Anthony said. “Then once he settled down, we got him in the right situations, got him in the right positions, he made some shots. That’s going to take some time for him just rebuilding that confidence being back out there on the basketball court, but for the most part the ball’s going to find him.”
Stoudemire was already done for the night when the Knicks made a late run, cutting an 11-point deficit with 3:16 remaining to 100-97 on Anthony’s 3-pointer with 57 seconds left. Lillard answered with a 3-pointer, but the Knicks got it right back down to three again when Anthony converted a three-point play with 29 seconds to go.
The Knicks forced a jump ball and Smith won it, but Anthony missed a 3-pointer. Wesley Matthews, back after missing four straight games with an injured left hip, made two free throws with 13 seconds left to close the scoring.
Stoudemire checked in with 3:31 remaining in the first quarter to the ovation he said was unlike he’d ever experienced in his career. The Knicks went right to him in the post, but he stepped on the baseline while making his move.
The cheers turned to boos, not heard often this season during the Knicks’ 12-2 start at home, just a few minutes later.
Portland used an 11-0 run in the second quarter to extend a seven-point lead to 43-25 on Mathews’ basket with 7:20 remaining. The lead was 19 when Stoudemire returned with 5:36 left and the Knicks scored seven straight points, but the Blazers regrouped and got it back to 18 after consecutive baskets by Hickson before Stoudemire sat down again.
It was 58-47 at halftime after Anthony banked in a 3-pointer on a broken play with 0.1 seconds left.
The Knicks looked better offensively when Stoudemire returned with 5:06 left in the third quarter and Portland leading by six. He got his first basket when Anthony found him inside with 3:11 left, and he showed his old explosive finishing ability with a dunk later in the period, but the Knicks couldn’t close much of the gap because of their poor defense on Batum. The Frenchman scored 13 points and made three 3-pointers in the quarter, giving the Blazers a 78-71 advantage.
Notes: The Knicks fell to 16-7 overall and 13-3 at home on New Year’s Day. The record by an opponent for points against the Knicks on Jan. 1 is held by Woodson, who scored 36 for the Clippers in 1988. … The Blazers’ blowout loss here last March came hours after Mike D’Antoni resigned and Woodson became the interim coach. Blazers coach Nate McMillan was fired the next day. by BRIAN MAHONEY [AP]