The Empire State Building was illuminated in orange and blue Saturday night to celebrate the Knicks’ home opener. By game’s end, the Knicks were blue and had nothing to celebrate.
They squandered a 21-point second-quarter lead and wasted a 33-point performance by Kristaps Porzingis. Their defense failed them and they fell to the Pistons, 111-107, at Madison Square Garden.
“They played harder than us in the second half,” Knicks center Enes Kanter said.
That’s a damning statement, considering the Pistons played Friday night. Yet they played with much more energy and passion with the game on the line than the Knicks did in their home opener after being off Friday.
The Pistons outscored the Knicks 60-43 in the second half and 75-50 in the last 27:51 of the game.
“When you have a 20-point lead,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said, “don’t blow it.”
Porzingis, who missed some shots late, said three different times during his postgame news conference that he was “fouled” on some of the plays. But two games into the season, he has scored more than 30 points in both and shown he can handle the workload as a franchise player. But he needs help.
The third-year forward made his first seven shots and finished 11-for-20. Two of his first three misses were on shots from halfcourt or farther — one at the end of the half and one on a bad third-quarter possession that resulted in a 24-second violation.
Hardaway, who was signed to a four-year, $71-million deal to be the Knicks’ No. 2 guy, has been a disappointment in the first two games. He finished with 14 points, including nine in the final quarter, but was just 4-for-16 from the field, including 3-for-10 from three-point range.
“It’s great to get a couple going in, but at the same time, it doesn’t mean anything; you’re trading baskets at this point,” Hardaway said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re making one or two in a row; they come down, they’re making shots and you’re not getting stops, it doesn’t matter.”
Former Half Hollow Hills West standout Tobias Harris led the Pistons with 31 points. Andre Drummond added 21 points, 12 rebounds and one critical block of a Porzingis layup late in the game. Reggie Jackson scored 16, including seven in the final 1:41.
Kanter had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Kyle O’Quinn finished with 15 points off the bench for the Knicks (0-2). First-round pick Frank Ntilikina didn’t play because of a sprained ankle.
With the score tied at 102, Jackson drove, hit a floater and was fouled. His three-point play made it 105-102 with 1:41 remaining. After O’Quinn scored inside, Harris spun around Porzingis and hit a high-arcing jumper with 45.3 seconds left.
On the next trip, Porzingis passed up a three-pointer and drove to the basket. “Before the block, somebody pulled my arm down at the end,” he said. “It’s hard to see for sure, but I got fouled on that play.”
On the other end, Drummond missed inside and Avery Bradley couldn’t convert the tip-in, but the Knicks couldn’t secure the rebound. Jackson chased it down and was fouled with eight seconds left. He made both free throws to put Detroit up 109-104.
Hardaway buried a three-pointer with 4.0 seconds left to bring the Knicks within two. But the Knicks fouled Jackson on the inbound and he iced the game with two foul shots with 3.1 seconds left.
“We see glimpses where we can be really good,” Jeff Hornacek said. “But we have to be consistent and be able to do it the whole game.”
Porzingis scored 31 points in the opening-night loss to the Thunder on Thursday and was even better Saturday night.
But he said he could have been more aggressive after Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy took out Stanley Johnson and put the more physical Anthony Tolliver on him in the second half. Porzingis was 3-for-10 after halftime.
“I should have done a better job when he’s so into me. Drive by him or be aggressive and get fouled,” Porzingis said. “I’m learning. I’m also learning this position and this situation. I’m going to keep growing as a player.”