When Kristaps Porzingis finished up his pregame workout and headed toward the locker room, he was greeted with hugs from familiar faces among the employees. As he walked to the tunnel, fans flocked to him, and not a disparaging word was uttered as he signed autographs and posed for photos. One fan got a jersey autographed and screamed, “You’re the best!”
But that all changed once the real show began. When the Mavericks came out of the tunnel, the boos were loud, and when the Garden went silent for the national anthem, one fan shouted, “Traitor!”
When he was introduced, the few fans wearing Porzingis’ Knicks jerseys were inaudible under the crushing taunts.
The sound continued all night, every time the 7-3 former Knicks franchise star touched the ball. For a night, the crowd had a common enemy, and it wasn’t the Knicks' coach or management.
After Marcus Morris drained a tiebreaking three-point field goal with 13.2 seconds to play, the Knicks survived for a 106-103 win, claiming bragging rights over Porzingis even if they have found few of them elsewhere.
“I don’t know if it’s fair or not,” Porzingis said. “It’s what they know. It’s what they heard, the fans. I don’t think about that too much. It is what it is. We came here to win a game and we are frustrated we didn’t get it done. I wouldn’t say it affected me. I heard it, of course. It was pretty loud. But I tried to play my game and stay focused and not think too much about what is going on.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to try to win them over now. It is what it is. I understand where they are coming from. Whatever happened is in the past. I just want to win games. It was loud. But as I said, it was cool. It’s good. It’s cool.”
Julius Randle spun into Porzingis with 1:32 remaining, sending Porzingis to the floor. There was no call, and Randle banked in a layup to give the Knicks a two-point lead.
Porzingis then misfired on the other end, but a missed shot gave Dallas the ball back with 46.7 seconds left. When the Knicks didn’t box out, Seth Curry followed Tim Hardaway Jr.'s miss to tie the score with 38 seconds to play.
After Morris put the Knicks in front, Luka Doncic drove for a layup with 5.8 seconds left to cut the lead to one. Frank Ntilikina was fouled with 3.9 seconds left and hit both free throws.
A desperation shot by Curry fell short, but the Mavericks had one more chance, attempting an inbound pass with eight-tenths of a second remaining. But Morris deflected the pass, setting off a celebration.
“I’ve been to Phoenix. Obviously, San Antonio this year,” Morris said of the crowd reaction to Porzingis. “It was just at another level. It looked like he was a little rattled, too. So it kind of helped us.
“It feels pretty good. It’s the first time to see the Garden like that. It was exciting playing there. I feel like we owed it to ourselves. I feel like we’ve been talking about it a lot, so it was good to see.”
Morris finished with 20 points and Randle added 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Knicks.
Doncic led the Mavericks with 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Porzingis finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
The Knicks (3-9) have two of their wins against the Mavericks, beating them in Dallas last week.
Knicks coach David Fizdale ran into Porzingis in the hallway before heading to his pregame news conference and embraced the player he never got to coach.
“We’ve got great fans,” Fizdale said. “They’re very passionate. We’ve been on the other side of those boos sometimes, too. I understand. But tonight they really, not only were they booing them, but they showed great appreciation for our effort. that’s the great part about the Garden.”