Frank Ntilikina didn’t hesitate even though he missed his previous shot.
The 19-year-old rookie point guard got the ball from Kristaps Porzingis and confidently buried a three-pointer. It brought the Garden to its feet with 93 seconds left and gave the Knicks the lead for good in a thrilling 108-101 comeback win over Indiana on Sunday night.
Ntilikina’s big basket also got his teammates off the bench as they ran to congratulate him when the Pacers called a timeout. “He grew up this game,” said Courtney Lee, the first Knick to run to Ntilikina. “He seized the moment. He grew up right in front of us today.”
Ntilikina played the entire fourth quarter and helped spark the Knicks defensively. He hit two three-pointers in the fourth — entering the game, he had three — and finished with a career-high 10 points along with seven assists and three steals. His defense is ahead of his offense, but he was huge on both ends.
“I have the confidence, but being comfortable on the court takes time,” Ntilikina said. “I know I can definitely do better and I will work to do better in the future. But I think this game tonight is a little step, what I look forward to doing in the future.’’
Ntilikina, whom the Knicks selected with the eighth pick, hasn’t gotten off to the start he had wanted because of injuries. He didn’t play in the summer league and missed all but one preseason game with knee issues, then sat out two regular-season games because of a sprained ankle.
He has shown glimpses of what he can do, though. He had a nine-point, five-assist game in a win over the Nets and an eight-assist, five-steal performance in a loss to the Rockets, but this easily was the best game of his career.
“I talked to him a lot after games and he always says one thing: He says he doesn’t want to make a mistake,” Lee said. “Sometimes he gets nervous out there overthinking, but today he was just playing. He was taking threes when he got the ball in rhythm. He was pressuring the ball. I think his defensive effort helped him ease into the game and gave him confidence, and once he’d seen that first one go down, man, he just took off.
“So he definitely grew up this game, and everybody in this locker room, not only myself, everybody is proud of him.”