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Bucks, Monroe fall short as Knicks' second unit takes over

Milwaukee's newcomer solid but New York's rookie Porzingis (16 points) shows grit in Anthony's return to court

POSTED: Oct 29, 2015 1:45 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Knicks vs. Bucks

Derrick Williams scores 24 points and Kristaps Porzingis adds 16 as the Knicks defeat the Bucks.

Greg Monroe broke hearts over the summer in the greater metropolitan New York area when he passed on a chance to sign as a free agent with the Knicks and chose instead the Milwaukee Bucks as his destination. He was prepared to break a few more and rip the Band-Aids off others Wednesday night at Bradley Center.

"Hey, if that's a consequence of winning this game, sorry," Monroe said an hour or so before the Knicks faced the Bucks in the 2015-16 opening game for both teams.

Only it didn't quite work out that way. Monroe started strong -- six points and seven rebounds in his first 7:26 as a member of the Bucks -- and posted a solid 22 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks overall. But Milwaukee got ripped, 122-97, and its splashy offseason signing (arguably the summer's biggest after San Antonio's get of LaMarcus Aldrdige) was tagged with a minus-15 in the time he was on the floor.

New York's Plan B as a free-agent center, Robin Lopez, had a modest eight points and two rebounds in 19:52. But its other big newcomer, Kristaps Porzingis, took another unflappable stride with 16 points and five rebounds. The Knicks were only one point better than Milwaukee when the 7-foot-3 Latvian was on the floor but then, it was only one game.

At 20 years old and ripe for long hours in the weight room, Porzingis still has handled most of what has been thrown at him, starting with the Las Vegas Summer League, continuing in the preseason and successfully debuting in the NBA regular season. He was anxious early, he admitted, but settled down in his second and subsequent shifts. Though he missed eight of the 11 shots he attempted, Porzingis absorbed enough contact to earn a dozen free throws.

"That's one thing, he has never shied away from contact," Lopez said of his slender young teammate. "I've been very impressed by that. ... He always comes in early, very diligent worker, I think that will start to show. Once he puts on a little weight. He's an extremely versatile player. He's a smart player for being so young. Great skills, great instincts."

Said New York coach Derek Fisher of the team's highest draft pick since Patrick Ewing in 1985: "Anytime he's on the floor, really cool things can happen. He's really versatile on both wings. He changes shots defensively. He rebounds the ball well when he's around the paint. And offensively he can do a lot of things. His level of aggression, though, is remarkable for a young guy his size who doesn't necessarily carry a lot of weight. But he's not fearful of getting in there and mixing it up."

Most of the Knicks' damage against Milwaukee was done by its second unit, led by reclamation project Derrick Williams (the No. 2 pick in 2011, now on his third NBA team) with 24 points. Williams (20), Kyle O'Quinn (23), Langston Galloway (13), Jerian Grant (20) and Lance Thomas (20) all posted gaudy plus/minus numbers in the black. New York's depth was especially helpful given some key Milwaukee players missing -- Giannis Antetokounmpo (one-game suspension from last spring's playoffs), Jabari Parker (knee rehab) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring).

Monroe thus started his first game as a Buck flanked by Khris Middleton and Chris Copeland. He got beat on the first play of the game by Lopez for a dunk, heard plenty of "Moose!" calls while filling up his stats line and looked adrift defensively more than once, with teammates providing their share of flotsam and jetsam.

Monroe admitted that his nerves were stirring for this one.

"If you ask anybody, they [say they] don't have a little butterflies on opening night, they'd probably would be lyin'," he said. "I'm aware of what's going on. I'm in a new place, a new arena, new fans."

His agent, David Falk, was sitting courtside, as was former NBA top cop Rod Thorn, now working as a consultant for the Bucks. In between them were the aggressive tri-owners of the Milwaukee franchise; one, Wes Edens, even welcomed the Bradley Center crowd over the P.A. mic to "the 2016 ... champions."

But uh, not yet. The Bucks don't have the firepower, even when healthy, to survive while surrendering 122 points. They ranked fourth in defensive rating last season and gave up an average of 97.4 points per game. They're expected to get better with the lanky, interchangeable defenders on their roster and now there's room for some serious regression to the mean.

"[We need to] understand, we have new pieces and this isn't going to be the last time we give up 100 points," coach Jason Kidd said. "But we have to give better effort."

That was not New York's issue Wednesday. The Knicks had spoiled Cleveland's opener and LeBron James' homecoming game last year, so messing with Milwaukee was no great stretch. But they did it on a night when Carmelo Anthony shot 4-of-16 and scored only 11 points. And they did it with their prize rookie getting his feet properly wet.

"I just tried to stay aggressive," Porzingis said. "Got fouled a lot. We have guys like Melo who gets double-teamed, and that opens up other guys. He just makes the game easier for all of us. ... Makes my stats even better.

"It's going to be a long season for me. Hopefully I can maintain this energy and this intensity."

Presumably the Bucks can muster more.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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