The most important result of this game was the fact that Kristaps Porzingis was available to come back into the game if he was needed.
With 11:32 left in the fourth quarter, the Franchise Unicorn banged knees with Nic Vucevic and awkwardly crumpled to the court. When he finally got back to his feet, Porzingis winced, paused and limped to the locker room. The Garden fell silent.
“I couldn’t walk,” he said.
Much of the Garden faithful couldn’t breathe, either.
Remember it was a year ago when Carmelo Anthony twisted his ankle when he stepped on a referee’s foot. The Knicks were 20-20 at the time and never were the same once Melo went down.
The Knicks improved to 16-13 with the win and face the Celtics on Christmas Day in perhaps the first marquee game of the season. This one has the potential for a statement, as Boston (17-12) sits just one game ahead in third place in the East.
So as Porzingis reemerged from the locker room and climbed on a stationary bike in the runway near the Knicks bench, concerned faces turned to smiles. KP even carried on a casual conversation with fans around him as he watched his team, led by super subs Kyle O’Quinn (14 points, 16 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Brandon Jennings (12 assists) put the finishing touches on the 11th home win of the season.
The team announced Porzingis was available to return to the game, but that wasn’t necessary. What is necessary is he’s ready for Christmas Day against the Celtics.
“It’s already getting better,” Porzingis said afterward of what was labeled a right knee contusion. “I hope to play on Sunday.”
These types of games in these types of atmospheres are very important to the development of Porzingis.
Marcus Smart and the Celtics are waiting. Porzingis has struggled against physical defenses and it was last season that Smart and the Celtics first effectively utilized smaller, physical players against the 7-3 Latvian. It was in that same game that Melo went down with the ankle injury.
This summer Porzingis made direct reference to Smart when he discussed his need to improve his lower body strength to handle that type of defense. He should be able to shoot over smaller defenders, but he has to create the space to get his shot off, first.
That’s one of several matchups to watch in this game. Another involves the point guard position, where Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas will be in attack mode. Then, of course, there’s the physical battle between Melo and his nemesis Jae Crowder.
And while this game is important for the Knicks’ Big Three to earn nationwide credibility, it may come down to an emerging weapon to make the difference: the bench.
O’Quinn and Jennings have been catalysts as veterans among a relatively young and inexperienced group that has had some great moments. They were the difference in Thursday night’s win over the Magic.
So here we go for Christmas Day: the old rivalry renewed. Knicks. Celtics. No green allowed.
We’ll have full coverage of the game on MSG starting with Knicks Game Day at 11:30 a.m.