BOSTON – One of the first times New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis faced the Boston Celtics, he found himself matched up with an unfamiliar defender in Marcus Smart.
Yes, the 6-foot-4 Smart was defensively giving Porzingis fits, never mind the fact that the New York Knicks big man had an 11-inch height advantage.
And so the narrative on how to deal with Porzingis was born.
Put a smaller, stronger defensive-minded player on him and his impact would at a minimum be limited.
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“He (Smart) tried to break my knees,” quipped Porzingis about Smart who will not play Tuesday due to a left ankle sprain. “No, it was something I had never experienced before, guy was getting into my knees, playing hard defense. I wasn’t really ready for (that).”
Call it a lesson learned, because these days no defender – tall, short, lanky or strong – seems capable of containing the 7-3 big man.
Indeed, there have been few players in the NBA who have gotten off to better starts when it comes to scoring the ball.
He came into Tuesday’s game against the Celtics averaging 32.0 points in his first two games, and became the first New York Knick to score 30 or more points in back-to-back games to start the season since Patrick Ewing in the 1993-1994 season.
“Now, I’m more prepared for it,” Porzingis said. “I know it’s coming. Every team is going to try and play physical defense against me. I just have to make sure I’m ready for that contact.”
He has done just that, displaying an ability to score both from the perimeter and around the basket regardless of what type of defender teams throw his way.
“He’s really tough to guard,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s really, he’s super-skilled and obviously super long. It’s hard to put a guard on him. Guards oftentimes don’t affect him, affect the rhythm of his shot. He just shoots it over them. Bigs oftentimes can’t keep up with him. His ability to put it on the floor, his ability to stretch them out. His ability to cut and do unique cuts. How many guys can cut off a lob and jump over people, and also come off a stagger screen and shoot it from 3? He’s a pretty special talent.”
Which made the rumors of the Knicks potentially open to trading him all the more perplexing this summer.
Porzingis was well aware of the trade speculation surrounding him, as well as what was being said about another big-name talent, Kyrie Irving.
Irving, who wound up being traded to Boston, had reportedly listed New York on his initial preferred destinations to be traded to.
“I saw that,” Porzingis said. “I wasn’t trying to pay too much attention to my own trade talks, even less to other guys.”
Of course, that was under then-GM Phil Jackson who has since been replaced by longtime NBA executive Scott Perry.
The change appears to have done the relationship between Porzingis and the Knicks a lot of good, with Porzingis looking and playing like the face of the franchise which he has become since the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City shortly before training camp started.
But the real challenge lies in Porzingis' ability to maintain his play over the course of an 82-game season.
“That’s the thing for me, getting rest and recovery between games is the most important thing,” Porzingis said. “If I can stay fresh for the 82 games, then I will be fine. I know I will be able to play at a high level.”
The Knicks (0-2) will need that if they are to do what so few anticipate this season, which is to compete for a playoff berth.
New York isn’t thinking that long-term right now, not with a handful of games played.
Regardless, their success this season will be tightly connected with Porzingis’ play, and whether he can withstand the physical pounding teams are eager to administer to him this season.
“I know it’s going to be physical, guys are going to come at me,” he said. “But again, keep it simple for myself. Go out there and play basketball and have fun.”