Kristaps Porzingis’ fast start to his NBA career has only furthered the natural comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. And Porzingis’ performance Monday night will only ramp them up.
Porzingis faced one of his idols for the first time and once again shone with the spotlight on him, and had the Garden crowd at the edge of its seat in the final minutes of a game the Knicks trailed by 23.
The 7-3 rookie had a better statistical game than Nowitzki, Europe’s best NBA import, and carried the Knicks down the stretch. But as hard as Porzingis tried to lead the Knicks over the Mavericks, the deficit was too big to overcome.
The Knicks lost for the sixth time in eight games, falling to Dallas 104-97 despite Porzingis’ 28-point night. Nowitzki finished with 25 points and hugged Porzingis after the final buzzer.
“He’s for real,” Nowitzki said. “He’s probably way ahead of the curve. When I was 20, I was scared to death out there. He’s almost averaging a double-double, so he’s way better than I was at 20. So the comparison’s probably unfair to me.”
Porzingis said of his first game against Nowitzki, “It was fun. At first he showed why he’s Dirk Nowitzki. First half I let him shoot open shots and of course he made them. It was a lesson for me, somebody to learn from now. I’ve been learning from him. It was really fun to play against him.”
The Knicks (10-12) looked done several times, including early in the fourth when they trailed 92-72. But Porzingis led them back, scoring 12 in the fourth, and helped the Knicks get within four in the final minute. He scored six points and had a big block in the final 1:41 and finished 13-for-18 from the field.
“Porzingis is a special player and the city of New York has Phil Jackson to thank for that one,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “There were others that didn’t have the [guts] to pull the trigger on that one. He’s a great young player who has a chance to be truly special.”
Carmelo Anthony shot 6-for-18 and finished with 17 points and eight assists. He had a dreadful end to the game though.
In the final 2:54 of the fourth, he was 0-for-3 with two offensive fouls and a technical foul. One offensive foul came with 19.5 seconds left and the Knicks down 101-97 and Porzingis rising up for a three.
“It’s an accumulation of things,” Anthony said. “Calls, shots [not] going in, and losing. All of those things are just boiling up.”
Nowitzki, who had 16 points by halftime, got plenty of help from a couple of New York castoffs. Former Net Deron Williams had 20 points and seven assists and ex-Knick Raymond Felton added 14 points.
Boos rained down on the Knicks when the Mavs led by 20 in the fourth, but Porzingis helped them charge back into the game. His shot in the lane made it 98-91 with 3:51 left.
Anthony self-destructed after that but Porzingis kept the Knicks afloat and hit a three-pointer to bring the Knicks within 101-94 with 1:41 to go.
After Dallas misfired, Jose Calderon missed a layup with Porzingis open up top for a three. After Felton missed inside, Porzingis converted another three-pointer to make it 101-97 with 43.2 seconds left. Porzingis then swatted Williams’ layup attempt, but the Knicks came up empty when Anthony was called for another offensive foul.
Nowitzki then was fouled and hit a free throw with 18.2 seconds left to make it a five-point game.
“It really doesn’t matter because we still lost,” Porzingis said of his finish. “But I was just hitting shots and trying to do the things to help the team win at the end. It was really tough to come back from that deficit that we had. But I hit some shots at the end that almost led us back into the game.”