WASHINGTON -- Wizards fans are probably used to it by now. Kristaps Porzingis scored 18 points in the first quarter of the Wizards' loss to the Bucks on Sunday night, shooting 8-for-11 from the field in nine minutes. It was yet another in a long line of big first quarters for the Unicorn this season.
Those 18 points are more than he had scored in any single quarter before this season, but this year alone he has done that three times and twice in first quarters. He also scored 19 in the first against the Knicks on Feb. 24, a career-high for a single frame.
Porzingis is tied with Joel Embiid for the third-most first quarters this season with at least 15 points (7). The only two players ahead of him are Luka Doncic (13) and Julius Randle (9).
Porzingis is now tied with Devin Booker for sixth in points per first quarter this season. He averages 8.1 points in the first quarter which is more than Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and many others. Porzingis shoots 54.4% from the field and 41.0% from three in the opening frame.
"I think it's just a coincidence. I get those looks, I make them and that's it," Porzingis said.
His prevailing theory is that opposing teams come out with a defense designed to stop Bradley Beal. That leads to open shots for others and he's had the propensity to knock them down.
This trend, however, has sometimes included a drop-off for Porzingis after the first quarter. He went scoreless in the second quarter against Milwaukee on Sunday and finished with 24 points. After dropping 18 points in the first quarter, he had six points in the next three quarters combined.
But Porzingis has been good in every quarter this season when you look at his numbers in totality. He averages 4.9 points in the second quarter, 5.3 in the third and 4.9 in the fourth; those are on par with a 20-point-per-game scorer. His production spikes dramatically in the first quarter, including his shooting percentages.
Expecting Porzingis to maintain the same production from the first quarter on might be a bit unfair when you extrapolate the numbers. If he averaged 8.1 points in every quarter, that would break out to 32.4 points per game on the season. If he did that shooting 54.4% overall and 41% from three, then he would have one of the greatest seasons in NBA history.
Porzingis said the imbalance in his quarterly scoring results from his approach to the game. After he gets going, he wants to make sure the ball is moving so that others can also find a rhythm.
"I try to stay aware of how my teammates are in the game. At the end it is a team effort. If I just keep looking for how I can keep scoring, then our energy is not going to be as good. So, if I do have a hot start, it doesn't mean I have to keep chasing a high-point game," he said.
Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. wondered after Sunday's game if fatigue played a role in Porzingis' drop-off after the second quarter, given it was unusually stark. Not only was he limited to six points in the final three quarters, but he also shot 3-for-18 during that stretch.
Porzingis may have indeed been tired, as the Wizards were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and facing a difficult challenge in Antatokounmpo and the Bucks. Milwaukee has physical big men and spread the floor with an array of three-point shooters, making opposing players cover a lot of ground.
The Bucks also have two big men in Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez who are especially good at defense. Antetokounmpo has won the defensive player of the year award and Lopez is on the shortlist of favorites to take it home this season. They combined to hold Porzingis to 10-for-25 shooting, according to NBA tracking data.
On other occasions, opposing teams have had success against Porzingis by going small and switching on screens. It's not easy to stop Porzingis, but after his hot starts teams have naturally adjusted, some with more success than others.
The bottom line, though, is that Porzingis is an elite first-quarter scorer. That's a nice luxury for the Wizards to have; a guy who can go off for 15-plus points in the opening frame any given night.