Knicks 102, Hornets 94: Kristaps Porzingis Gives Knicks, and Fans, a Charge

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Kristaps Porzingis heading for the net as the Hornets’ Al Jefferson defended. Porzingis had 29 points, and his play had Knicks fans chanting his name.

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Elsa/Getty Images

After he had dazzled and dunked, after he had sealed the win with a rebound and two free throws, and after the crowd had filled Madison Square Garden with the sound of his name being chanted over and over, as if he were a rock star being called for an encore, Kristaps Porzingis carried an armful of towels for his teammates.

Porzingis, who had done just about everything Tuesday night in the Knicks’ 102-94 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, seemed to anticipate that some of the older players on the team would want to remind him of his lack of seniority. So he went straight for the towels — a pre-emptive move meant to disarm them, and another smart decision in a night full of them.

“The guys were like, ‘O.K., I see you, man,’ ” Porzingis said after scoring a career-high 29 points and collecting 11 rebounds.

Booed by fans who knew nothing about him when the Knicks drafted him in June, Porzingis captivated the crowd in his 12th N.B.A. game. On a night when they wore throwback uniforms, the Knicks (6-6) would not have survived without the player who represents their future.

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Porzingis grabbing a rebound over the Hornets’ Spencer Hawes.

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Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

All of it was there — the outside touch and the post positioning, the rebounding and the defending.

“The easy part is playing one game like that,” Porzingis said. “The hard part is to keep playing at this level.”

It will not be there every night for Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 power forward. He was coming off a subpar outing  against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, when he shot 4 of 15 from the field and spent much of the second half on the bench. Coach Derek Fisher said he had been pleased with Porzingis’s effort, though. He wants Porzingis to remain aggressive. If there are occasions when his shot selection is questionable, there are far greater sins.

“I’m very reluctant to take away from a player’s natural instincts to go make a play,” Fisher said.

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Knicks-Hornets Highlights

Against the Hornets (5-6), Porzingis shot 10 of 17 and made both of his 3-point attempts. The Knicks outscored the Hornets by 20 points when he was on the court. Carmelo Anthony finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Knicks, who were challenged by the Hornets’ speed — and by Kemba Walker, in particular, who finished with a game-high 31 points.

Anthony largely operated as a facilitator. He found Langston Galloway for a 3-pointer to punctuate the third quarter. And when Arron Afflalo and Jose Calderon made back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth, the Hornets appeared to be out of answers — except that the Knicks nearly did a face-plant.

Late in the game, the Knicks went nine straight possessions without a point. Porzingis sat on the bench for four of them. Fisher said he had wanted to be cautious with Porzingis’s minutes, indicating that fatigue had played a role in opting for a different lineup. The Hornets whittled the Knicks’ lead to 98-94 when Nicolas Batum made a 3-pointer.

Fisher finally called on Porzingis, who ended the scoreless streak after he was fouled grabbing a defensive rebound with 11.3 seconds left. He sank both free throws.

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Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony collecting one of his 11 rebounds. He also had 18 points.

Credit
Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

“Don’t miss these,” Porzingis, who played 31 minutes, recalled telling himself at the foul line.

It was the Knicks’ second meeting with the Hornets in seven days. Last Wednesday, in Charlotte, the Knicks lost at the buzzer when officials ruled that Porzingis had released his go-ahead 3-pointer after time had expired. Any disappointment was tempered by the realization that the Knicks, months removed from last season’s grease fire, were playing competitive basketball.

Against the Hornets, Porzingis shot 4 of 6 from the field in the first quarter. His presence at both ends was unmistakable. When he went to the bench for a breather, the Knicks led by 7. When he returned early in the second quarter, the Knicks trailed by 8. And then their situation improved, over just a handful of possessions.

Porzingis sank a 3-pointer. He grabbed rebounds. He earned trips to the foul line. And how about this? Anthony passed up at least two open shots to get the ball to Porzingis, who scored a season-high 17 points in the first half alone as the Knicks trimmed the deficit to 48-46.

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“Everybody was saying that I was a project, to wait a few years,” Porzingis said. “I will get better in a few years, but I knew I was able to play right now. That was my mentality.”

Anthony said: “I want him to succeed. He puts in the work.”

Facing the Hornets, the Knicks got a reminder of their not-so-distant past. Jeremy Lin, a familiar face to Garden denizens, made his entrance off the bench for the Hornets late in the first quarter to a chorus of boos. The days when he left the arena enthralled are long gone.

Yet Lin played a big role, as the Hornets’ reserves erased an early 9-point deficit, his nifty pass to Jeremy Lamb early in the second quarter leading to a dunk. Lin later darted through traffic for a layup. In some ways, it felt like the old days.

But as the game wore on, and the Knicks seized control, Lin became little more than background noise as a new star emerged.

REBOUNDS

The Knicks did not win their sixth game last season until Jan. 19.

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