Kristaps Porzingis has a slight flair for the dramatic, even when he’s not on the court.
A little more than an hour before playing his first game in a week, Porzingis looked completely pain-free as he loped through the locker room toward a group of reporters. As he sat down to talk, however, he produced a tissue and blew his nose.
“That was to prove I was sick,” Porzingis said with an impish smile.
It was the Knicks who looked sick the past two games without both Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr., losing two straight including a blowout in Indiana. Last night, however, was a different story as the Knicks did what they needed to do to beat the struggling Memphis Grizzlies, 99-88.
With the news that Hardaway will be out for at least two more weeks because of a “stress injury” to his lower leg, it was clear that Porzingis, who had been suffering from both a bad cold and bad ankle sprain, believed he needed to be out on the floor, lingering symptoms or not.
The result was far from his best game as he scored just 18 points, shooting 8-for-19. He did, however, have some big baskets in the fourth quarter when Memphis was attempting a comeback. That included a rim-hanging dunk in the final minute that brought him a technical and brought the Garden crowd to its feet.
“It’s good to be 22,” Porzingis said after the game when asked about his quick recovery.
The fact that their best player was making every effort to get back on the floor seemed to rub off on his teammates. With the Knicks needing to make up for the 15.7 points per game that Hardaway has been scoring, the Knicks are going to have to find creative ways to produce offense.
On Wednesday night it was Courtney Lee who stepped up, scoring 24 points and shooting 10-for-17. Lance Thomas, who started in the new alignment with Hardaway out, contributed big time on defense as he was a plus-25.
Coach Jeff Hornacek said it gave the Knicks a lift to see Porzingis back on the floor, especially considering the last time he played at the Garden he lasted only two minutes after suffering a painful sprain that looked a lot worse than it ended up being.
“I think the guys feel comfortable when he gets out there,” Hornacek said. “He takes a lot of attention from the other team, so it opens it up for a lot of guys . . . I think his presence defensively was excellent tonight.”
It was an important win for the Knicks, mostly because a loss would have been demoralizing. The Knicks entered the game losing five of their last six and dropping below .500 for the first time since early November.
The Knicks needed to stop the slide now and prove that, even with one of their top players missing, they could beat a bad team.
The Knicks need to pile up the wins over the next couple of weeks while their schedule remains relatively soft. Beginning on Dec. 27, the Knicks play 16 of 20 games on the road. In other words, times will be tough by the time Hardaway gets back so they can’t moan about his absence now.
“We have a lot of winnable games ahead of us in this stretch,” Porzingis said. “Not to go too far ahead, we have to go game by game and see how we can play without Tim. I’m sure we’ll find ways to win games. Other guys are going to have to step up.”