The only Big Baller at the Garden was Kristaps Porzingis. Lonzo Ball wasn’t even the best rookie point guard.
With overbearing father LaVar Ball smack-talking with Spike Lee courtside, Porzingis led the Knicks in a record-breaking performance while dropping 37 points in a 113-109 overtime victory over the Lakers.
The Latvian flexed his versatility by becoming the first player in NBA history to score that many points with at least five blocks, 11 rebounds and five 3-pointers.
“This is probably hopefully the tip of the iceberg for him,” Hornacek said. “This is only his third year in the league, at 22 years old, to put up these numbers is something else. He can go outside, he can put the ball down, he’s got deep range. He can shoot it from a long way away. When he gets inside, he’s got some jump-hook stuff that he’s been making lately. And again, he’s going to get better and better every year, too. He’s fun to watch out there.”
Tuesday night carried an extra level of excitement because the Ball family debuted at the Garden, including the younger sons – LiAngelo, 19 and LaMelo, 16 – who a day earlier signed with a professional team in Lithuania. They got the star treatment with Amar’e Stoudemire and Odell Beckham Jr. stopping by for introductions.
Lonzo, meanwhile, finished with a respectable 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists. But he had zero field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime, getting outscored by Frank Ntilikina, 7-2, during that stretch.
Kristaps Porzingis led the Knicks with a 37-point performance.
(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Afterwards coach Jeff Hornacek gushed over his rookie, who was drafted six spots below Lonzo and shut down his counterpart when given the opportunity.
“He has the mentality of a basketball player,” Hornacek said. “That’s why he’s going to be a great player in this league. Again, he doesn’t shy from anything. He likes those challenges. He was ready to go. I could tell when we were lining up for the anthem.”
Still, the Knicks blew their opportunity to close out the Lakers (10-16) in regulation, largely because they unimaginatively forced the ball the Porzingis down the stretch. With 1:30 remaining and a 5-point advantage, Porzingis missed three consecutive contested shots – including the potential game-winner at the buzzer.
“Still trying to learn when the double team comes to make the right pass and make the right play,” Porzingis said. “I’m still learning that. This is my first experience where every night I’m playing the other team is coming and I have to be capable of making the right plays so they can’t be (double-teaming me) every time.”
Porzingis’ miss transitioned to the first overtime of the season for New York (14-13), and it turned into the Michael Beasley show. Just two nights earlier, the enigmatic reserve forward fouled out in just 10 minutes. Against the Lakers (10-16), he scored 12 his 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as Hornacek again won with a small lineup.
The Knicks battled to force the game to overtime before defeating the Lakers.
(Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)
“He was great. He was great,” Porzingis said. “Offensively he’s really really talented. He comes in, he can make stuff happen.”
Despite the extra excitement brought by the Balls, the game was a drag until midway through the third quarter. That’s when Lonzo scored seven straight Laker points, starting with a one-handed alley-oop jam.
His father reacted as you might expect – rising from his seat, flailing his arms, taunting the crowd. The problem for the Lakers and LaVar, however, was Porzingis matched the output on the other end.
He continued to pour it on to set an NBA record.
“It’s an honor that I’m capable of doing something that has never been done. But that doesn’t help us make the playoffs,” Porzingis said.
A correction for Porzingis: the only way the Knicks (14-13) make the playoffs is if he continues to put up these gaudy numbers, especially with Tim Hardaway Jr. sidelined indefinitely and the schedule getting road-intense after Christmas.