76ers forward Paul Reed guards Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa during...

76ers forward Paul Reed guards Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa during the first half of an NBA game Tuesday at Madison Square Gardem. Credit: Mary Altaffer

PORTLAND, Ore. — After the Knicks beat up on the Orlando Magic last week at Madison Square Garden, Precious Achiuwa’s on-court postgame interview had the crowd applauding loudly. His words were appreciated, perhaps even more than the 15 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots he had recorded in the win.

Achiuwa was asked about his fit in New York and he detailed his feelings.

“Just want to thank the man above, thank my family, and I also want to thank New York City for embracing me since I was a little kid,” he said on the court. “I grew up in New York City, going to middle school, high school out here in the city. So for me, just being able to come back home and represent the city means a lot to me. And I just want to thank you, New York City. I love you guys.”

While the Knicks have been embraced by the home crowd this season for their win total and style of play, there was something different about it coming for one of their own.

“It was a very, very cool moment for me,” Achiuwa said after the Knicks’ morning shootaround before their game against the Trail Blazers on Thursday night. “Inner-city kid, growing up in the city, of course, hearing about the Knicks, seeing the games and stuff. Now being able to represent the city on that platform is really huge. Seeing how the city accepted me and just me being there in that particular moment was very nostalgic in a way. It was a crazy moment for sure.”

It was an odd homecoming for Achiuwa, who was acquired by the Knicks in the Dec. 30 deal headlined by OG Anunoby, making him seem almost like a throw-in. After a span in which he played sparingly, the Knicks’ injuries opened up opportunities, and he took advantage. When Julius Randle and Anunoby were sidelined, Achiuwa started 18 straight games and averaged 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.

“This is the best I’ve played in a really, really long time,” he said.

It was timely, not just for his return home, but because he is a restricted free agent at season’s end and likely has made himself a lot of money in this six-week run. But he said that when the trade came, he was uncertain what it would mean for him.

“Of course,” he said. “I’m a very optimistic person. I’ve never worried myself much about that. I always believe things are going to work out. That’s always been my mindset. Coming in, I always understood it’s going to work out, have to stay positive and continue to work hard.

“Right now I’m just focused on the season. Obviously [free agency] is going to come around. When that time comes, that’s something we’re gonna talk about. Of course, cross that bridge. But for right now, just focus on the season, make this last push for the playoffs and, of course, make a good playoff push.”

With Anunoby returning to the lineup Tuesday, Achiuwa returned to the second unit and played 24 minutes after averaging just under 37 minutes per game in the 18 starts.

“It’s prioritizing the team,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We knew that we had a deep team to start the season. One of the things we talked about right from the start was everyone’s willingness to sacrifice and put the team first. So everyone wants to play; not everyone could play.

“And then you have injuries and, the next thing you know, you’re in there and now your job is to make sure you stay ready when you’re not in the rotation. And then when you are, or if your role changes and now you’re playing an expanded role, to be able to handle that. I think our guys have shown that all year.”


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