As glad as I am the Mavericks were able to come away with the win on Monday night, what I really want to spend this post talking about is the ridiculous hype surrounding Kristaps Porzingis — and how it’s all totally justified. Why talk about a bunch of boring Mavericks when I can instead focus on one of the most exciting prospects the NBA has to offer? Oh, I know he’s sweeping the league by storm and I’m making myself sound like a bandwagon jumper, but if that’s what it takes to get on this wagon, clear me a path.
Sometimes the media frenzy tells you what players to get excited about, and mindless fans don’t know any better but to listen. I’m not an expert, but it doesn’t take one to see that there is no logical reason not to get excited about Porzingis. The guy is 7-foot-3 and he has what is already a workable outside game to go along with the ability to perform high-flying acrobatics. He just turned 20 about three months before his first NBA season started, and he’s already playing with the prowess of an annual all-star. I may be a sucker for rookies, but it isn’t hard to be a sucker for this man. If I were a Knicks fan, he’d be plastered all over my walls like I had some kind of teenager crush on the guy. I’d stay up late at night and think about him, wondering what he was doing, what his favorite movie was, what kind of toppings he liked on his pizza. Kristaps Porzingis is the player that has the ability to instantly convince someone who can’t stand basketball to make it his religion. Oh, to start life over again as a kid living in some bland apartment in Brooklyn, staring off into space in the classroom all day dreaming of going home and watching my idol.
Enough hyperbole? Fine, let’s talk about his performance in Monday’s game and stick to the facts, then. Because he’s a rookie, Porzingis hasn’t yet reached the point where he’s a guaranteed highlight reel night after night. Less than two weeks ago, for instance, he had back-to-back performances where he put up only 10 and 11 points, respectively. A few games before that, he scored just 7 against the Thunder. You never know for sure at this stage in his career if he’s going to blow up on a given night, so I was prepared to catch him on an off-night and come away feeling cheated. Instead, it was like he’d been waiting for me to watch him this whole season, and he dropped in 28 points, the second-highest total of his career to date. If there was any chance I could walk away from this game without being hopelessly smitten, that performance obliterated it.
A game that was destined to be billed as the new kid in town against the experienced gunslinger ready to pass the torch started off just as the media hoped it would: with Dirk Nowitzki and Porzingis trading shots with one guarding the other. Dirk was masterful, rippling the net with several first quarter shots, and he had 11 points before the game was even four minutes old. Porzingis held his own, however, getting a couple shots to go in and coming up with a steal before the quarter ended. He added another six in each of the next two quarters before going off for the final 12 in the fourth.
What a sight it was. The Mavericks were up by a comfortable 17 points when the halfway mark of the fourth quarter hit, and then the Knicks started making a run. After Jose Calderon knocked down a 25-footer to bring New York within seven points at 98-91, Porzingis began a stretch that fascinated me and revealed everything he can do on the basketball court. First, he knocked down a 28-footer to bring his team to back within seven just as the Mavericks had started to pull away again. There were just under two minutes left to go at this point, and the organ player was working his magic at the Garden. One minute and two Dallas misses later, Porzingis struck again with another three, this time from merely 25 feet. This brought the Knicks to within four points with less than a minute to play, and the tension became palpable for both sides.
On the very next Mavericks possession, Deron Williams got loose into the paint for what appeared to be a sure-thing layup that would serve as a dagger in the Knicks’ back, but then Porzingis happened. Ranging over to help at the basket, the phenom rose to meet Williams, high in the air where few players in the Garden’s storied history have ever soared, and emphatically denied the attempt. The crowd roared, waiting for the miracle comeback to continue, but the basketball gods had allowed all they were going to on this night. Carmelo Anthony‘s offensive foul ended the team’s next possession and effectively the game, but lost in all that commotion was that the turnover ensured Porzingis’s last shot was stricken from the record. It was another long three, and it went halfway down before rattling around and popping back out; it was the kind of miss that isn’t really a miss, like when a hitter rips a ball 400-plus feet to dead center and Mike Trout jumps up and brings it back. That’s how on fire Porzingis was down the stretch of this game.
I’m thrilled the Mavericks won, and I love them dearly, but on this night, it was Kristaps Porzingis who stole my heart.