Porzingis nets 38 in Knicks’ win over Nuggets
NEW YORK — Off the court, it was a turbulent offseason for Kristaps Porzingis.
After his second season ended with team dysfunction and his own personal dissatisfaction, Porzingis spent time posting on social media about how much stronger he is getting while the Knicks attempted to and eventually did trade Carmelo Anthony.
The results of his summer workouts are turning Porzingis into a virtually unstoppable force in the opening weeks of the season.
Porzingis scored a career-high 38 points as the New York Knicks blew a 23-point lead but made enough plays down the stretch in a 116-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
Porzingis produced his eighth career game with at least 30 points and surpassed his previous career best of 35 set Nov. 16 against the Detroit Pistons. It was his fifth 30-point game of the season, raising his scoring average to 29.3 points.
“Some of the stuff that he does, we look at each other on the bench and ‘(go) man he really just did that,’” Knicks center Enes Kanter said.
Porzingis joined Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan as the second player in the last 25 years to get at least 30 points in five of the first six games of a season. The 22-year-old forward also is the first Knick to achieve five 30-point games in the first six games and the youngest player in NBA history to do so.
The 7-foot-3 Latvian continued his strong start by hitting 14 of 26 shots, including four 3-pointers. One of his 3-pointers was a 33-foot shot during the first quarter that had some tweeting “He hit that from Staten Island.”
Porzingis set a career high by hitting 14 field goals and tied a career best by hitting four 3-pointers for the ninth time.
“He’s 7-3, what can you do?” New York forward Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “Really, he’s 7-3, can handle the ball, run the lane. You can’t really do much. We’ll give the ball to the big man all the time as long as he’s producing like this. It’s great to watch and be on the floor the same time he’s doing it.”
Porzingis also spent most of the night showcasing a lethal mid-range game, hitting 7 of 11 from between 10 and 20 feet.
“Anywhere between 10 to 15 feet on the floor is his money area,” New York guard Courtney Lee said.
Two of those mid-range shots helped the Knicks secure their third straight win after a bumpy third quarter. Up 23 early in the third, the Knicks gave up a 29-4 run by committing 12 turnovers in the quarter, allowing the Nuggets to briefly take a pair of two-point leads.
New York took an 84-81 lead into the fourth quarter and then Porzingis finished it off with his mid-range game.
With 5:35 remaining, he hit a 14-foot turnaround fadeaway over Paul Millsap for a 104-95 lead. Nearly four minutes later and shortly after Denver made it a 104-102 game, Porzingis hit a 16-foot baseline fadeaway over Jamal Murray for a 110-104 lead and then made four free throws in the final 19.7 seconds.
“He is a tough player,” Millsap said. “He is 7-foot-3. When he gets it going, it is kind of tough to stop him.”
Others helped Porzingis as the Knicks avoided a second loss this season when leading by at least 20 points.
Kyle O’Quinn added 15 points and 12 rebounds. Hardaway scored all 13 of his points in the fourth quarter. Lee and Kanter added 12 apiece as the Knicks shot 50 percent, hit 13 3s and overcame 23 turnovers.
Nikola Jokic, who scored 40 on Feb. 13 in New York, led the Nuggets with 28 points. Murray followed his season-high 26 points from Sunday’s win at Brooklyn by adding 20 points.
Gary Harris contributed 18 points, but the Nuggets shot 41 percent and couldn’t overcome the slow start.
“We made a decision to play with effort,” Denver coach Mike Malone said. “In the first half, they were the aggressor.
“(In the third quarter) guys played with more energy, effort, and physicality. In the fourth quarter, there were too many mental breakdowns. Overall, poor effort.”
Before surviving the second half, Porzingis scored 22 points as the Knicks took a 65-43 lead into halftime.
NOTES: Knicks G Ron Baker was inactive for the third straight game. Though no official injury is listed for Baker, coach Jeff Hornacek said after Friday’s game that Baker was dealing with some ankle soreness. ... Denver C Nikola Jokic hit a career-high six 3-pointers. ... Newly hired New York Mets manager Mickey Callaway sat courtside. ... New York G Frank Ntilikina finished with five points in 16 minutes in his second career home game. ... Denver F Darrell Arthur made his season debut and played 11:44 after being out the rotation for the first six games.