Enes Kanter Makes Big Return to New York as Trail Blazers Beat Nets

When Jusuf Nurkic went to the bench, the Portland Trail Blazers inserted a player who barely knew their offense.

Imagine how good Portland’s center combination can be once that player, Enes Kanter, gets up to speed.

Nurkic had 27 points and 12 rebounds, Kanter added 18 points and 9 rebounds in his Portland debut, and the Trail Blazers beat the Nets, 113-99, on Thursday night at Barclays Center.

The center tandem was so good that the Trail Blazers did not even need a big night from the All-Star guard Damian Lillard, who was just 5 for 21 from the field. He finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.

They’re going to change the dynamic for a lot of teams, how they guard us obviously,” Blazers guard C J McCollum said.

Kanter signed last week with the Blazers after losing his job with the Knicks and then being given his release after they could not find a deal before the trade deadline. He made his first seven shots and finished 8 for 9 from the field, missing only a 3-point attempt, as the Blazers relied on pick-and-rolls when he was in to compensate for his unfamiliarity with their sets.

Languishing on the bench during much of what became an 18-game losing streak for the Knicks, Kanter was excited to be on the floor in meaningful situations.

“Last time I got a win I think it was like almost two months,” he said.

McCollum added 21 points in a good return from the break for the Blazers after going into it with a 129-107 victory over Golden State. They opened a seven-game trip and do not play their first home game after the All-Star break until March 7 against Oklahoma City.

Allen Crabbe had 17 points for the Nets, who came out of the All-Star break above .500 for the first time since 2013. The All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell shot only 4 for 16, finishing with 14 points and 8 assists.

“Didn’t coach well, didn’t play well,” Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It was just one of those games where I think Portland was simply the better team. There’s just no way around it.”

Lillard’s 3-pointer midway through the third — his only one through three quarters — gave Portland a 69-63 lead that the Blazers extended largely through Kanter’s work inside. He followed with four baskets in the period, including one that gave Portland its largest lead, 82-67.

The lead was 14 after his free throws with 10 minutes 40 seconds to play before Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier and Crabbe — all former Blazers — fueled a 15-2 surge that trimmed the deficit to 90-89. But Portland pushed the lead back into double digits, with Lillard contributing a 3-pointer with a little more than three minutes to go and Nurkic getting a three-point play when he was fouled on a powerful dunk.

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