Cheers rain down from rafters for Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis, who has a career night in a win over Jeremy Lin's Hornets
POSTED: Nov 18, 2015 1:42 AM ET
NEW YORK — Jeremy Lin was probably suffering from some déjà vu on Tuesday.
In his fourth game at Madison Square Garden since leaving the Knicks, Lin bore witness to New York's latest sensation.
And Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis got a taste of what it was like to be Lin in the spring of 2012, with the MSG crowd pulling for the 7-foot-1 forward like they have for no individual since Lin was wearing orange and blue.
Porzingis rewarded their passion with a career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds in the Knicks' 102-94 win over Lin's Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday. Many thought that New York fans would have to wait a lot longer for this kind of performance from the No. 4 pick. His selection was booed at Draft night by a New York crowd desperate for its team to be relevant again.
But just 12 games into his career, Porzingis has turned doubters into believers.
Hearing the fans cheer like that is amazing.
– Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis
"Everyone was saying, 'Project. A few years,'" Porzingis said after Tuesday's performance. "I will get better in a few years, but I knew I was able to play right now. That was my mentality."
The Knicks probably aren't going to be any better than a low playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, but a big rookie season from Porzingis would be the reward for a fanbase that just lived through the worst season in franchise history.
On Tuesday, they cheered when he got off the bench to check into the game, got anxious whenever he went into his shooting motion, and roared when he scored.
After a put-back and-one midway through the fourth quarter gave the rookie his fifth career double-double, a "Por-zing-is! Por-zing-is!" chant filled the Garden. The MSG crowd is happy to have a competitive team again, but a 29-and-11 performance from any other Knick wouldn't have gotten the same reaction.
"Hearing the fans cheer like that is amazing," Porzingis said, having always believed that he'd eventually earn the love of the MSG crowd. "Sooner or later, yeah. I wasn't expecting it to be right now, but with the hype here in New York City, it happens that quick."
The fans in the crowd aren't the only ones who are most excited about a big game from the rookie.
"I want him, personally, to succeed," Carmelo Anthony said. "I know what that feels like to be against all the odds. I want him to succeed. He puts in the work to be put in this position to thrive. It's paying off for him. He's still young, but it's still paying off for him.
"It's tough playing here in New York, especially for a guy who never did it, a guy who knows nothing about New York. So I want him to succeed here."
A rough rookie season from Porzingis would have tested Anthony's patience. The eight-time All-Star is on the wrong side of 30, looking to compete for a championship, and probably not willing to go through a 2-3 year rebuild.
Anthony's timeline and Porzingis' timeline don't seem to match. But when the 31 year old struggled with his shot on Tuesday, the 20 year old picked up the slack.
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Stu Jackson and Grant Hill look at the surprising play of Knicks' rookie Kristaps Porzingis.
"He picked it up for everybody," Anthony said. "Offensively, he came through big-time for us. It felt good to hear his name being chanted in the arena. I'm proud of him."
For a 20 year old who's 7-foot-1 with perimeter skills, this seems like just the tip of the iceberg. And, beyond the tip dunks and Tuesday's big performance, all signs point to Porzingis being the real deal.
For one, he's putting in work. Talk to his coach and teammates, and you'll know that Tuesday was the result of time spent in the gym.
"If I hadn't been seeing him every day for months now, maybe I'd be surprised," Knicks coach Derek Fisher said. "But you see this ability and whether or not he'll ever be able to do this nightly, we don't know at this point. But because of the combination of skills and ability, at some point it's going to all come together."
"We're happy to see a guy that works so hard to have good games," Jose Calderon added. "That's what you want. He's been great since Day 1. You always want those guys to be successful."
Secondly, Porzingis has the right attitude.
"It's just one game," he said. "I want to keep doing this. 'Melo's been doing this for every game. The easy part is to play one game like that. The hard part is keep playing at this level."
It felt great. But I can't really be like, 'I made it right now.' It's just one game.
– Kristaps Porzingis
Finally, he's not forcing it.
"To me," Fisher said, "the best part about it is a lot of it is happening naturally, in the flow of the game. To me, that's a sign of a really good basketball player, when you can be effective and impactful in the game without trying to make it happen. I think that's what has the most appeal to me as a coach."
Fisher just wants his rookie to stay humble.
"A couple nights ago, the stat sheet looked a little different, and they weren't calling his name," Fisher said. "The main thing for Kris to learn is that, tonight, they love you ... Just hold on."
At the height of Linsanity, Lin had a ton of fans in every arena. Porzingis won't be nearly as loved on the road, but when the Knicks return from a four-game trip that begins Friday in Oklahoma City, the Garden crowd will be ready to treat him as New York's newest star.
"It felt great," he said of the reaction on Tuesday. "But I can't really be like, 'I made it right now.' It's just one game. I want to keep playing at this level. It will be hard, obviously. But it feels good to have a good game and get the win at home."
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