Kristaps Porzingis has made it a goal to play in all 82 games for the Knicks this regular season. But he made it clear in the days leading up to Sunday that some games mean more than others.
For example: His first Christmas Day game as a pro, which he was determined to participate in regardless of the right knee contusion he suffered Thursday night.
And so he did, carrying a full load with 37 eventful minutes in a 119-114 loss to the Celtics at Madison Square Garden. He had 22 points, shot 9-for-16 and had 12 rebounds, four blocked shots and five turnovers.
Before the game, coach Jeff Hornacek had pronounced Porzingis 99.4 percent healthy. After it, Porzingis confirmed he was at or near 100.
“I was. I was,” he said. “The knee was feeling pretty good, so there’s no excuses.”
If he was not in discomfort, might his three first-quarter turnovers have been attributable to the extra excitement he had about the holiday showcase?
“There were no nerves,” he said. “It just happens. I liked the atmosphere. The atmosphere, I think, was the best out of any home game this season.”
That was what made the loss even more difficult to take.
“We wanted to win it for us and we wanted to win it for the crowd and then to win on Christmas Day and start [my first] Christmas game with a win,” he said. “We just couldn’t finish it at the end.”
Porzingis shrugged off the turnovers, saying: “It was just some passes that I made that maybe weren’t right there . . . I have to watch film and see where I can get better, but I’m not worried about that.”
One of the turnovers came on an attempted no-look touch pass to Joakim Noah in the first quarter that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd but did not connect.
There were highlights, too, including an offensive rebound over two Celtics defenders, driving the lane for a dunk just before halftime and a three-point basket followed by an old-fashioned three-point play during the Knicks’ 8-0 rally to tie the score at 112 with 1:06 left.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Porzingis stuffed the Celtics’ Amir Johnson as Johnson went up to shoot, only to have the officials call a jump ball. Johnson won the tap and Jae Crowder wound up with a basket that gave the Celtics a 10-point lead.
“They don’t call that in Europe,” the Latvian by way of the Spanish league said. “I thought I had a block. Everybody was already running [down the court] and the crowd was so loud, you couldn’t hear anything. I guess that’s what it was.”
Notes & quotes: The appropriately named Justin Holiday was chosen to address fans before the game with a holiday welcome and greeting . . . The Knicks wore special blue Christmas uniforms; the Celtics wore green . . . In the third quarter, Carmelo Anthony jawed at the Celtics’ Al Horford. Each player got a technical foul, but Horford pleaded with the officials, yelling, “I didn’t say anything!” Asked later what happened, Anthony jokingly said: “A Dominican and a Puerto Rican, you know what I’m saying? That’s all. No hard feelings. We’ve got love for the Dominicans. Nothing serious. That’s what happens when New York and Boston play.”