The fans at the Garden who booed and jeered Friday night as Carmelo Anthony labored through a 1-of-6 shooting fourth quarter — though his one make was huge — no doubt want him on the first plane, train or automobile out of town.
But there is at least one guy who maintains faith in Anthony and wants him to remain in New York. Kristaps Porzingis swears his belief in Anthony never has wavered.
“Of course. He’s been a great leader for me,” said Porzingis, who for one night at least broke out of his recent funk with an 18-point, 8-of-11 shooting effort in the Knicks’ 110-107 victory over the Hornets.
“He’s been a great example for me. I’ve been blessed to be able to work with him day-to-day, learn from him, talk to him be friends with him. Obviously it would be really tough for us to lose him,” Porzingis said. “That’s it.”
“Anthony” and “trade” have gone together recently like salt and pepper, night and day, motor oil cocktails and upset stomachs. The Knicks insist they have their eyes on a more relevant prize than any return for their leading scorer in a trade. Porzingis said the team simply is pushing the distraction out of their minds.
“We try to. The way we can block it out is just not talk about it,” said Porzingis, who had endured a 7-of-22 shooting slump in his two previous games. “We don’t need to bring that into the locker room and talk about what’s going on. We focus on the things we need to do on the court and talk about that rather than what’s going on on the outside and that’s why we can stay focused on what we need to do.”
One of the things Porzingis needed to do, according to coach Jeff Hornacek, was to stop shooting flat-footed as if his heels were super-glued to the court. That would help get lift, which would help get arc on the shot which would help bring makes.
It worked on Friday. Porzingis came out and made his first six shots, including all four attempts in the first quarter — two of those from 3-point distance.
“Sometimes, it’s just getting one or two to go,” Hornacek said. “He had a couple early on, nice shots he made and not all of a sudden, his 3s are going and guys are looking for him.”
Porzingis also had two terrific crowd-pleasing dunks in the second quarter. He added a huge jumper with 50.1 seconds left in the fourth that extended the lead to 107-101 on a feed from Kyle O’Quinn, aided by a Courtney Lee screen. It was the only shot Porzingis, who fouled out, took in the second half. But it was big. Pretty much like his overall contribution.
“He looked fresher. He had his legs back underneath him early,” Anthony said of Porzingis, his resident fan-club leader. “It happens. Guys have bad games here and there.”
And they have good games, too. Porzingis needed Friday. He had shot .420 (55-of-131) over his previous eight games, with two injury absences for his sore Achilles tendon breaking up the stretch.
“Just me coming out relaxed but aggressive at the same time. I was able to hit shots. I wish I could have kept going I was making shots. I was hot,” Porzingis said. “Felt good.”
And he’ll feel better if Anthony stays his teammate.
By Fred Kerber