MILWAUKEE - The Knicks had so many long nights last year, so many games where they were overmatched and underwhelming. In their regular-season opener, they looked nothing like that team.
Their overhauled roster played with passion and played together, and their new and improved second unit rescued their starters, sparking the Knicks' impressive and unexpected opening-night 122-97 rout of the Bucks.
"I don't remember last year," Carmelo Anthony said. "I try not to remember last year. This is a different season, different vibe for us. You can just see the vibe from the players out there on the court. You can see the energy. You can see the confidence we have as a team, the way we feed off of each other."
It was Anthony's first game since undergoing knee surgery in February and his shot was off. It was rookie Kristaps Porzingis' first-ever NBA game, and it showed early -- although he got more comfortable and finished with 16 points in his debut. But both players spent parts of the game jumping out of their seat after big plays or baskets by the backups in a game that the Knicks led by double-digits for the final 28:26.
Derrick Williams came off the bench and led the Knicks with 24 points. Langston Galloway added 16, and shot 4-for-5 from three. The Knicks' reserves outscored their starters 73-49.
After a 1-for-6 start, Porzingis played more aggressively. He finished 3-for-11, attempted 12 free throwfoul shots and pulled down five rebounds. Anthony, double-teamed most of the night, was 4-for-16 with 11 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The blowout allowed Anthony to play just 30 minutes, which could keep him fresh for tonight when the Knicks play their home opener against the Hawks.
Greg Monroe, a Knicks' free-agent target, had 22 points and 14 assists for the Bucks, who were without Giannis Antetokounmpo (league suspension) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring).
The Knicks, who were a franchise-worst 17-65 last season, were totally reconstructed in the last 12 months. Only six players returned from last year's team, and just three were on the opening-night roster.
Team president Phil Jackson spent roughly $90 million on Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O'Quinn, Williams, Sasha Vujacic and Kevin Seraphin.
The Knicks didn't land any star to put next to Anthony with the near $30 million they had to spend in free agency. But Anthony got the help he needed Wednesday night.
"We have a really solid team," Williams said. "A lot of good players and our star player.
O'Quinn grabbed 11 rebounds. Lance Thomas shot 5-for-5 and scored 13 points and rookie Jerian Grant had 10 points and five assists.
"It wasn't my night offensively, but other guys picked that up for me," Anthony said. "I thought they did a great job of doing that."
It didn't start well for the Knicks.
They were supposed to be improved defensively. Yet the Bucks got inside easily in the first quarter and Monroe dominated the boards early. Then Williams, O'Quinn and Grant sparked a 15-0 run with their activity and defense.
The subs turned the Knicks' early seven-point deficit into a 12-point edge 3:31 into the second quarter. The lead extended to 59-43 later in the second with some subs still on the floor.
Williams had 15 points in the first half and O'Quinn eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
Derek Fisher stayed with the same starting five to open the second half, and they pushed the advantage to 77-55 after a Porzingis' hook shot with 7:19 left in the third.
Later in the third, the Knicks still led by 18 following back-to-back three-pointers by Porzingis and Galloway. Anthony found both of them for the wide-open threes. Galloway drilled two more threes before the quarter ended with the Knicks on top 90-73.
"It feels good just to get that one out of the way," Anthony said. "My teammates helped me out by making shots. I found them, I trusted them. I had confidence in them to do that. They did that for me."