Lee, Porzingis’ return spark Knicks to victory
NEW YORK — With Kristaps Porzingis’ shot off in his return from a two-game absence because of an ankle injury, he turned to his defense to make an impact on Wednesday night for the New York Knicks.
He let Courtney Lee handle the offense.
Lee scored 24 points — including 12 in the second quarter after a scoreless first quarter — and Porzingis had 18 to lead the New York Knicks to a 99-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Porzingis scored seven points in the fourth quarter but struggled from the field for much of the game in his first game back since sustaining a sprained ankle less than three minutes into the team’s 115-86 victory over Miami on Nov. 29.
Porzingis, the fifth-leading scorer in the NBA at nearly 26 points per game, shot 8 of 19 from the field after going 3 of 11 in the first half.
“You never know coming off an ankle twist like that, when you first start running on it, if you’re going to be slowed by it,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “But he looked good.”
Hornacek lauded Porzingis’ defense, as the big man helped limit Memphis’ starting forwards JaMychal Green and Dillon Brooks to six total points.
“I think it was his presence defensively that was impressive tonight,” Hornacek said.
Enes Kanter added 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks (12-12), who snapped a two-game losing streak that saw them fall below .500 for the first time since late October.
Marc Gasol scored 17 points and Tyreke Evans had 15 to lead the Grizzlies (8-16), who lost for the 11th time in 12 games.
“Offensively, we got stagnant and just watched,” Grizzlies interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “One guy tried to go one-on-one, we weren’t cutting, we weren’t moving, we weren’t sharing of moving the ball.
“We can’t survive that way. We’re a team that if we’re going to be the best we can be we have to involve everyone offensively.”
The Knicks used a 19-2 run to start the third quarter to break open a close game after the teams went into the half tied at 49.
“We got off to a slow start,” Hornacek said. “We gave them some 3s and they hit them. Then we started to pick up the pace. We came out in the third quarter really focused.”
The Grizzlies broke a 17-17 first-quarter tie with a 15-3 run, led by reserve Chandler Parsons, who had 10 points during the stretch.
“Those guys came in and gave us a boost,” Bickerstaff said. “You look back earlier in the year, Mario Chalmers and Chandler, those guys came off the bench. Tyreke Evans was with that group at the time, and it was very successful for us. They did what they’ve been wanting to do.”
Without the services of shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. for the third straight game because of a stress injury in his lower left leg, and with Porzingis off the mark, the Knicks turned to Lee to spark them after the Grizzlies went up big early.
Lee took over in the second quarter, scoring 12 points, including a 3-pointer with two seconds left in the half. The teams went to the locker room tied 49-49.
“I was just taking what the defense was giving me,” Lee said. “Early on, it was KP and Enes that had it going, so we were going through them. They did a good job of drawing all of the attention and finding me. I was just trying to be aggressive.”
NOTES: Knicks SG Tim Hardaway Jr. is expected to miss at least two more weeks while he receives treatment for a lower left leg stress injury, the Knicks announced via Twitter before the game. ... New York SF Lance Thomas started for Hardaway, replacing rookie SG Damyean Dotson, who started the previous two games in Hardaway’s stead. Dotson averaged only 5.5 points in his two starts. Thomas scored eight points against the Grizzlies. ... Memphis fell to 1-4 with J.B. Bickerstaff as interim coach. The team fired former coach David Fizdale on Nov. 27. ... The Grizzlies return home Friday to face the Toronto Raptors in the start of a three-game homestand. ... The Knicks travel to Chicago on Saturday before returning home Sunday to oppose the Atlanta Hawks.