As Kristaps Porzingis went to the foul line in the waning seconds of the best scoring game of his career, Madison Square Garden broke out in a loud chorus of “M-V-P!”
Porzingis is off to an incredible start to this season, as he’s proving he’s more than ready to carry the Knicks. The third-year big man is doing something no other Knick has ever done, not even his predecessor as franchise player, Carmelo Anthony.
Porzingis poured in a career-high 38 points to lead the Knicks to a 116-110 win over the Nuggets Monday night. He became the first Knick ever to score at least 30 points in five of their first six games.
“It’s crazy, but I think he should be in the MVP talk,” Knicks center Enes Kanter said. “He should definitely be in the MVP talk. Because he’s bringing it every night. He’s doing an amazing job. He’s not taking nights off.”
The same can be said for the Knicks now. After dropping their first three games of the season, the Knicks have won three straight. This was an impressive victory because they won both ends of a back-to-back. They also had to withstand a furious rally by the Nuggets to pull out the win.
The Knicks led by 23 points early in the third quarter. But they committed 13 turnovers in the third and relinquished the lead during a 27-2 Denver run.
They got it back and were clinging to a two-point lead with under three minutes remaining. The Knicks made the critical shots and stops to preserve the victory.
“We just stayed in the game, stayed calm and played our game,” Porzingis said.
Porzingis, who is third in the NBA in scoring, averaging 29.3 points per game, shot 14-for-26 overall and 4-for-7 from three-point range. He also made big plays late.
With the Knicks up four and needing a basket, Porzingis had the ball on the baseline with the shot clock winding down. Porzingis turned and his jumper over Jamal Murray rattled in to give the Knicks a 110-104 lead with 1:29 left.
Porzingis scored 10 points in the fourth, including four foul shots in the final 19.7 seconds to ice the game.
“I’m just playing my game,” Porzingis said. “I’m trying to be aggressive and doing the things I know how to do, I know I can do on the offensive end. Defensively I’m trying to bring some energy . . . I’m playing well.”
When Porzingis was asked if he heard the MVP chants, he said “no” and then smiled widely.
Other Knicks had big games Monday. Kyle O’Quinn 15 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in 21 minutes off the bench. Tim Hardaway Jr., who had 34 points in Sunday’s win in Cleveland, was 4-for-11 with 13 points. All of them came in the fourth quarter. Jarrett Jack had six points and 10 assists, and buried a big jumper with 2:40 left.
Nikola Jokic led Denver with 28 points. Murray added 20.
Jokic burned the Knicks for 40 points last year at the Garden. Porzingis went right after Jokic from the beginning, and got the better of him.
“Of course,” Porzingis said when asked if he remembered last year’s game. “ He scored 40 on us last time. He’s a great player and we’re pretty close since the rookie transition. We have a good relationship. It wasn’t about me going up against him it was more importantly about getting the win, and I’m happy [we] got the W.”
Leading 84-81 at the start of the fourth, the Knicks finally got something from Hardaway. He missed his first five shots, but at last connected on a three-pointer with 9:35 left.
It started a stretch in which Hardaway scored 11 consecutive points. His third three-pointer in the run put the Knicks on top 100-93 with 7:31 left.
After taking a nine-point lead with 5:35 left, the Knicks came up empty on their next six trips. The Nuggets closed to 104-102. Jack ended the drought with a jump shot from the right wing with 2:40 left. On the other end, O’Quinn blocked Paul Millsap’s shot. Courtney Lee was fouled going to the basket and made both free throws for a 108-102 lead with 2:05 left.
Later, with the Knicks up four Hardaway came up with a steal and was fouled with 25 seconds left. His two free throws made it 112-106.
“We have great effort right now with the guys,” Jeff Hornacek said. “I’m very happy with the way they’ve responded. [At] 0-3 you can duck your head, but I think that says something about these guys. they kept working. I think they have the belief that we’re going to get there.’’