DALLAS – For three quarters, Kristaps Porzingis got his groove back.
Then he needed a little help from Jarrett Jack.
The Knicks blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter and looked on the verge of another collapse. But Jack, the point guard who just had his contract guaranteed Sunday, hit the big shot with 31.2 seconds left to put New York up for good in a 100-96 victory.
It snapped a three-game losing streak for the Knicks (19-21), representing just their second win over the last nine games. It also felt like a sigh of relief.
“That would’ve been pretty heartbreaking if we didn’t win this game,” Porzingis said.
The leadup was all about the battle between New York’s Frank Ntilikina and Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr., drafted one after the other in June. The Knicks passed on Smith Jr. to pick Ntilikina eighth overall, a move that’s been a topic of debate among fans and media.
LeBron James even chimed in by saying the Knicks screwed up by not drafting Smith Jr., who went ninth to the Mavericks. But when the rookies finally stepped on the same court in the second quarter – Ntilikina, the rangy defensive specialist, and Smith Jr., the explosive high flyer – it all felt anticlimactic.
Jarrett Jack hit a crucial jump shot to give the Knicks the lead with 31 seconds left.
Smith Jr. was inefficient offensively while scoring 11 points on 14 shots. Ntilikina finished with seven points, but probably won the night with his defense (two steals, two blocks). Neither rookie was on the floor for the final four minutes, and there weren’t many head-to-head opportunities.
Nonetheless, Ntilikina was pleased.
“When we did (go head-to-head) I think I did a good job containing him,” he said. “He’s very athletic, very good to the rim, explodes above average. So that’s what I wanted to contain. I think I did a pretty good job so I’m happy for it and looking forward to playing him again.”
Smith Jr. was impressed.
“He’s a really good defender like I said previously,” the 20-year-old said. “He found his niche early in the league. It ain’t nothing but respect for him. I’m super excited for him.”
Ntilikina was subbed out in the middle of a fourth-quarter stretch when the Knicks blew their 13-point lead over less than four minutes. The Knicks, in fact, didn’t hit a field goal from when they led 90-77, until the score was tied, 94-94.
Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks held off the Mavs’ late comeback attempt.
(Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports)
That’s when Jack took advantage of a Porzingis pick and hit his big runner in the lane, giving him 12 points on the night with eight assists.
“i was just trying to be aggressive,” Jack said. “They had done a good job of mucking the game up, denying a lot of our action, not allowing us to get the ball in the place that we were trying to get it to. KP set a good screen, I saw I had an opening and I just tried to knock the shot down.”
Porzingis had missed all five of his field goal attempts in the fourth quarter. He was hounded by Dallas’ Wesley Matthews, who, at one point in the fourth quarter, shouted at Porzingis that he’s “soft” and “sweet.” After the game, Matthews said it was all part of a strategy.
“With any great you have to make him uncomfortable. And he’s 7-3, 7-4, can put the ball on the ground, can shoot it easily. He has moves, confidence, he’s a great player. I was just trying to make it uncomfortable for him,” Matthews said. “I got nothing against him. He’s a great player. I actually like watching him play. He’s tremendously talented, the future of our league. It’s just competition, that’s all that is. I (shook his hand) after the game. No beef there.”
Still, Porzingis finished with a game-high 29 points on 9-of-25 shooting with eight boards. The highlight of his night was the final shot of the first quarter, when he crossed up Dirk Nowitzki and nailed a jumper in his idol’s face. Porzingis has been compared to Nowitzki – mostly because they’re both tall Europeans with long shooting range – but the Latvian can only hope his career will rival the future superstar’s.
Mired in a slump heading into Sunday, he looked more like a future Nowitzki in the American Airlines Center.