The surging Pelicans are calling their interchangeable lineup of small-ball “48 minutes of hell.” That’s what it was for Kristaps Porzingis.
“This was a great game for me to learn,” he said.
His stat line was still eye-catching — 21 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals — but the eye-test told a different story about his performance. The Pelicans showed little regard for his post-up game as they constantly switched on screens and left guards to defend him. Despite owning almost a foot advantage in height, Porzingis was overwhelmed by the physicality and often came up empty.
While he quickly accepted blame for another maddening loss — “A lot of it was my fault tonight,” he said, — his coach and teammates certainly didn’t disagree.
“If they’re gonna switch and put little guys on [you], we’ve got to punish them,” Jeff Hornacek said, without specifically naming Porzingis.
“Get to the free throw line when we throw it into the post,” he continued. “We just weren’t able to convert.”
Porzingis shot 8-for-20 in the game and attempted just two three-pointers (he missed both). He spent a big portion of the game in the post and yet only attempted five free throws. He spoke with frustration about missing those turnaround shots off the glass he often hits with ease and pointed to getting hit on the elbow a few times without the benefit of a whistle.
But Hornacek is right: Porzingis needed to be more aggressive going to the rim and using his length to his advantage. He settled for jumpers and seemed to lack a determination that we have seen in him on other nights.
“Yeah, I’ve got to work on that,” he admitted. “I’m more comfortable shooting the mid-range shots… Maybe [Hornacek] is right. Maybe I need to get to the basket more.”
It was a second straight game in which the Knicks shot under 40% (37.6%) and they struggled from three-point range (7-for-23). But Derrick Rose (20 points, 1 assist) didn’t want to talk about that side of the court.
“Offense? I don’t want to talk about offense,” he said. “If we stop people, it would be a lot easier to score.”
The Pelicans scored 30 points on the fast break, including 16 in the first quarter in which the Knicks allowed 31 points and were already trailing by 10. So while Porzingis said his failure to dominate the Pelicans in the post hurt the defense — “If you’re missing those shots, it’s tough to keep that energy high,” he said. — Rose flipped it and said the defense led to forced offense.
“I’m tired of being down 10,” he said. “I think when you play that type of game, it affects you offensively.”
The Big Three each scored at least 20 points in a game for the fifth time this season, but the Knicks are now just 1-4 in those games. The trio combined to shoot 39.6% and took 67% of the shots.
The bench was once again outplayed by the opposing bench. Brandon Jennings (2-for-8) is shooting a career-worst 36.4% this season and Lance Thomas (37.8%) is playing through foot issues and has not been able to rediscover his form from last season. The usually-reliable Kyle O’Quinn played just 5:15 and Willy Hernangomez was ineffective, as well.
It was all good just eight games ago. The Knicks went into Phoenix after winning the first two games of a West Coast trip and were 14-10 on the season. Since then, the Knicks (16-16) are 2-6 and in danger of falling out of the Top-8 in the East and below .500 before the New Year.
Tonight, the trip ends in Houston against a Rockets team that averages 114.5 points per game and ran the Knicks off the Garden court by 19 points early in the season. The defense has struggled since then and right now the offense seems to be in a funk. Consider that after the first quarter against the Celtics on Christmas Day, the Knicks have shot 39% (100-for-254) over their next 11 quarters.
We’ll have Knicks Game Night at 8 p.m. on MSG and a full postgame show afterward that is scheduled to end 30 minutes before the ball drops in Times Square. Be sure to tweet us photos from your New Year’s celebration using the hashtag #KNICKSonMSG and, as always, send us your thoughts on the game.