There were no “M-V-P” chants for Kristaps Porzingis inside the Garden Wednesday night and not much for the fans to cheer overall.
After three games of Porzingis performing like a superstar and the Knicks playing like a team that was committed to defense, they were completely taken out of their game by the Rockets.
Houston is tough to defend, the way they move and move the ball. The Knicks weren’t up to the challenge of slowing the Rockets or James Harden. Instead the Knicks looked zapped of energy like they were with heavy legs, which is a bad combination against Mike D’Antoni’s team.
The Knicks allowed 100 points before the buzzer sounded to end the third, trailed by as many as 29 and were shredded, 119-97.
Their three-game winning streak came to a screeching halt as did Porzingis’ run of three straight games of 30 points or more. The Rockets (6-3) attempted 52 three-pointers — many of them wide open — and made 19.
“You can’t play soft on these guys and be off four or five feet,” Jeff Hornacek said. “They can all shoot the crap out of the ball. I thought our close-outs weren’t good enough. We stopped short. You can’t do that against those guys.”
Hornacek said his players seemed “tired.” Porzingis admitted he was run down, perhaps from carrying the load more than he ever has in his career. He also said the Rockets “drained us mentally.”
Porzingis ended up 7-for-18 with 19 points. It was just the second time in seven games this season that Porzingis was held under 30. He had a career-high 38 in Monday’s win over Denver, and was serenaded with a couple of choruses of “M-V-P.”
Surprisingly, Hornacek re-inserted Porzingis in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. Fortunately for Hornacek and the Knicks, Porzingis didn’t get hurt. He scored five points during garbage time.
“I didn’t feel great before the game,” Porzingis said. “But there are going to be nights like that. You got to push yourself. I got to get as much rest as I can and get ready for the next game.”
Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 23 points. Enes Kanter added 12, on 6-for-6 shooting. Neither of them played in the fourth quarter. Second-round pick Damyean Dotson drew some cheers as he scored the first nine points of his NBA career.
Harden scored a game-high 31 points and dished out nine assists. Harden was 6-for-17 on three-pointers. Ryan Anderson finished with 21 points, as he showed the Knicks and their fans what could have been.
Anderson was the player the Knicks wouldn’t take back from Houston in trade talks for Carmelo Anthony, who eventually was sent to Oklahoma City. Anderson’s contract — three years and $60 million remaining — and the fact that he plays the same position as Porzingis made him unappealing to the Knicks.
The Knicks got off to a good start, as they made 12 of their first 20 shots and took a 30-24 lead on a Hardaway three-pointer early in the second quarter. But it all fell apart from there.
They missed nine consecutive shots and committed two turnovers during a five-minute stretch, leading to 16 unanswered points by Houston. Anderson scored nine in the run. Jarrett Jack finally ended the Knicks’ drought, as he buried a jumper with 6:33 left. But the Knicks were climbing uphill for the rest of the half, which ended with the Rockets up 60-48.
Things got worse for the Knicks in the third. The Rockets continued to get wherever they wanted on the floor, and they hit seven of their first nine shots to extend to 78-54 with 7:10 remaining. Anderson converted a three-point to give the Rockets the 24-point cushion.
“It was about multiple efforts in this game,” Porzingis said. “We missed a couple of extra efforts that could have given us more life in this game.
“Mentally it’s hard when those guys are knocking all those threes in. I think that maybe that drained us a little mentally.”