NEW ORLEANS – Kristaps Porzingis strapped on his cape and ended his 2017 with a bang.
Just when it appeared the Knicks were on the way to another road collapse, Porzingis emerged to save the road trip, dropping seven points in the final 90 seconds – including 2 on a spectacular dunk – in a 105-103 comeback victory over the Pelicans.
The highlight was the jam with about one minute remaining. He received the pocket pass from Jarrett Jack and soared right in between New Orleans’ twin towers of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. About 30 seconds later, he buried a jumper in the face of Davis to give the Knicks a 103-101 lead – giving Porzingis 30 points on the night.
New Orleans tied it on Cousins foul shots on the ensuing possession, but Jarrett Jack hit the game-winning free throws with 9.1 seconds remaining. The Knicks point guard couldn’t set up the designed play, but was bailed out by the foul on a difficult attempt.
Davis’ attempted game-winning 3-pointer fell short at the buzzer and the Knicks snapped a four-game losing streak.
Porzingis added seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks to his impressive night. Cousins led the Pelicans with 29 points and 19 rebounds. Davis had 31 points.
For morale, for optics, this was an important game. It represented the final in a three-game road trip, following defeats in Chicago and San Antonio that left the Knicks 2-12 on the road. With 13 of their next 17 games away from the Garden, they needed to prove to themselves – and the opponent – that they can pull out victories in an unfamiliar setting. Coach Jeff Hornacek, in an effort to turn the tide, tried different combinations – even playing castaways Ramon Sessions and Joakim Noah for stretches.
Noah played most of the fourth quarter, as the Knicks recovered from an 88-81 deficit at one point.
Still, Jeff Hornacek declined to put much stock in the contest, saying that the rebuild is ahead of schedule regardless of the result.
Just when it appeared the Knicks were on the way to another road collapse, Kristaps Porzingis emerged to save the road trip, dropping seven points in the final 90 seconds.
“We’re not trying to look at the big scheme of things. We’re just trying to get better,” he said. “We’ve gotten off to a start that probably – what are 35 games in – so to be around .500 35 games in not a lot of people would have thought that especially with how much Tim has been out. We have hit a stretch of road games that we really got to get focused in and do a lot of things right. It would be a nice for us to end the year with and go into next year. It’s not a game where if we don’t win it’s the end of the world.”
Porzingis put more emphasis on the result.
“This whole road trip, first in Chicago and then San Antonio, they were all winnable games but we just fell a little short,” he said. “We didn’t do little things that could’ve got us victory. So (Saturday night) we have to go out there with a fresh mind, with energy, with hunger, and try to get this one. At least that way we can finish road trip with a win.”
It started swell for the Knicks, who held leads of 7 in the first quarter, 15 in the second and 16 in the third. But then the collapse started as the Pelicans, who were playing in the second night of a back-to-back, closed the third quarter on a 23-10 run.
This time, the Knicks had an answer. In the form of a Unicorn.
With 4:26 left in the second quarter, Ron Baker made the unwise decision of trying to block Anthony Davis’ dunk. It did not end well for the Knicks guard. Not only did Davis connect the windmill for an and-1 (the block attempt wasn’t close), but Baker caught an elbow in the face and left the court bloodied. According to the Knicks, Baker suffered a laceration on his left cheek and received three stitches. He returned in the fourth quarter.
Teammate Michael Beasley achieved some level of revenge – though not blood — by dunking on Davis in the third quarter.