There’s always been an element of the fantastic when it comes to Kristaps Porzingis. From a child at the Garden crying when he was drafted to Warriors star Kevin Durant dubbing him a basketball unicorn, the Legend of the Latvian has grown by incremental leaps since he first put on a Knicks jersey.
And really, you can just go ahead and add Saturday night to the growing myth.
Of course Porzingis, who missed a game for the first time this season on Wednesday, hobbled by ankle and elbow injuries, would make a triumphant return. His booming, one-handed alley-oop slam in the first quarter off a lob from Frank Ntilikina electrified a Garden crowd that had been slumbering in the first moments of the Knicks’ 118-91 win over the Kings.
By the time halftime rolled around, he had scored 24 of his 34 points and the “MVP” chants were echoing from all over the arena. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter after the Knicks established a 24-point lead to end the third en route to their seventh victory in nine games after an 0-3 start.
Porzingis has scored at least 30 points in eight of his 11 games and is averaging 30.4 points per game. Has Jeff Hornacek come to expect this every game from him?
“I don’t want to say,” he said. “But yeah, it seems normal for him . . . He has such an advantage at that height, he can just shoot over guys. He played great. He’s been doing it all year.”
Any time Porzingis did sit down in the first half, the crowd lulled and lagged, as if gathering its energy for whenever its favorite son would step back on the court.
After missing his first three shots, he was 7-for-9 in the first half, helping to erase the Knicks’ early 10-0 deficit. And he did it all while probably still hurting. The bursitis in his right elbow — a condition that causes pain and swelling — could require offseason surgery.
“We’re not going to chop it off,” Hornacek joked, referencing the elbow. “He says he can deal with it. He does something to push a little swelling in there. It’s probably an annoyance for him, but he said he’s dealt with it before and he’ll do it again throughout the year.”
Porzingis’ layup with 4:42 left in the first quarter tied the score at 15 and his three-pointer less than 40 seconds later gave the Knicks the lead for good.
The Kings, who looked at least competent in the first few minutes, seemed incapable of putting much defensive pressure on either Porzingis or Courtney Lee (20 points) in the second quarter.
Lee hit five of his six three-point attempts. Enes Kantner had 17 points and 13 rebounds and Damyean Dotson finished with 14 points in 14 minutes off the bench. Skal Labissiere led Sacramento with 19 points.
Among Porzingis’ greatest accomplishments: He’s made Knicks basketball fun again. The team, Hornacek acknowledged, doesn’t necessarily have as much star power as it did last season, but it is jelling and performing in a way that works.
And let’s face it — these days, Porzingis looks to have enough star power for everyone.
“We’re playing selfless basketball and it’s enjoyable for us to play that way and it’s enjoyable for the fans [to watch],” Porzingis said.
Last year, he said, “We played off our talent . . . We really didn’t have the fundamentals as a team. We have a better connection this year . . . We feel like any game is winnable.”
Mostly because of him.