And there it was on a Sunday night in plain sight for all to see. A beacon of light, the promise of hope, finally in MSG. These lines ring true like a sonnet or some poem, and they may as well come off sounding as the epilogue to some literary fantasy. For with most, the promise of a bright future for the New York Knicks has often appeared as such: a fantasy.
Against the Indiana Pacers, in the ninth game of an 82-game season, the Knicks were able to defeat a team whom themselves had been playing well; as well as playing well beyond the expectations that had been placed upon them by others at the start of the season. The Pacers balanced offensive attack, evidenced by six players averaging double digits in scoring, held a commanding 19 point lead with little less than 2 minutes left in the 3rd frame.
Eventually this would be no ordinary game and ultimately no ordinary victory. The storylines of a seemingly insignificant game and, more importantly, the faith of turnaround which a new season provides were beginning to shape, and now they needed a producer.
Enter Kristaps Porzingis.
Coming into the game the power forward had scored at least 30 points in six of the Knicks eight games. A torrid pace to start a season to say the least, no matter for a veteran, all-star, rookie, or third-year player, which of course Porzingis is. He had never been in this position before though as he walked from the scorer's table out onto the court to re-enter the fray. You could probably count on one hand the amount of comeback victories from double-digit deficits that the Knicks had overcome in Porzingis' tenure with the team. And if any were made, he certainly had never been the one spearheading the comeback as the Knicks had always relied upon Carmelo Anthony to insulate Porzingis from those responsibilities.
Not to say that Porzingis was incapable. The time was not right. More importantly those types of opportunities had yet to present themselves. However, in the NBA, just like life, things can change in the blink of an eye. And, on September 25th, the staring contest that had enveloped throughout the season and off-season between Anthony and the Knicks finally came to a head and upper management finally blinked. A pre-training camp transaction, in which Anthony was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder, would now provide those opportunities. Immediately a new narrative was formed, and with it a new story began unfolding.
After entering in the waning moments of the third quarter, in a game in which the prospect of a favorable outcome seemed rather dim, Porzingis appeared to enter another dimension. Single-handedly he immediately brought the hometown team within striking distance of victory by scoring nine straight points via an array of shots and maneuvers. He would go on to score 24 points over the final 13 minutes of the contest.
That Porzingis was at the center of a remarkable turnaround in the game was no surprise. Heck, the 7'3" Latvian is at the center of what many hope to be a remarkable turnaround at Madison Square Garden. However it was not only about The Unicorn's contributions as much as it was about the contributions of ancillary sources. More specifically, the Knicks' precocious, seemingly pre-pubescent, teen-aged rookie Frank Ntilikina.
The 6'5" French point-guard whom the Knicks had tabbed and then selected (during and after the Phil Jackson regime) with the 8th pick in this past summer's installment of the NBA draft, was the source of much discontent to most Knicks fans during the league's off-season. He played sparingly, if at all, in Summer League ball as well as in the pre-season skirmishes. Fans had no idea what to expect. That fact combined with this notion, as far as any of them were concerned, gave them the reason to be very skeptical (at best) about the prospects of success for this young professional. Even more so for the team on a whole.
Yet there he was and there they were. Ntilikina and Porzingis. Arms and legs. Hands and feet. All 14-plus feet of limbs. Clogging the lane. Stifling penetration. Blocking shots. Tipping, deflecting, stealing. Them and the Knicks. Reawakening the ever faithful MSG crowd. Reawakening the ghosts of the gritty Knicks teams of your father's generation. Changing the tide and momentum of the contest. Perhaps even changing the prospects and fortune of a franchise. On one single night.
In the fourth quarter, Porzingis would continue his scintillating start to the season. Scoring, as well as assisting on, crucial baskets down the stretch of a game, which only moments before had seemed already lost. Whether hitting shots from the elbows (now his go to spot for his go to move which basically consists of shooting over the top of any defender) to the tune of a career high 40 points or using the threat of this newly formed prowess to find his new running mate Ntilikina as they executed the "two-man game" to perfection for two major three-point baskets from the rookie in the final moments to complete a stellar comeback performance.
Ntilikina scored 10 points and registered seven assists, but it was not just the about the numbers he was able to record. Rather it was the way he was able to put his imprint upon the game, as well as on Porzingis to some degree. The young point guard always made sure that the ball ended up in the capable forward's hands, both early and late in the shot clock. Following the lead of the Jarrett Jack, the veteran point guard who also has helped to spearhead the Knicks productive showings as of late.
[Jack replaced point guard Ramon Sessions three games into the season after three straight losses and has been a steady influence on Ntilikina. The Knicks have won five of six games since the change dating to the Pacers game. They have gone on to win four out of the next seven for an overall record 9-7.]
Ntilikina and Porzingis were in middle of everything the Knicks did on offense and defense in the most critical moments against the Pacers. It was a joy to behold. Possibly one enough to emote the slightest warmth within the hardened heart of any ardent Knicks supporter.
To say that this particular game against the Pacers, stuck between two decent stretches of basketball in the infancy of a season which is hopefully the harbinger of promising things to come for what has been a perpetually moribund franchise, is a ton of pressure to heap on the significance of the outcome of a defining performance for two players and one team; but it is. Quite frankly, it appears so. Because a display like this is just what it is: a promise of things to come.