The Knicks can’t blame their defense-deficient performances on Carmelo Anthony anymore.
Despite the coaching staff beating the drum on becoming a defense-first organization, the Knicks allowed the Nets to run up 93 points through three quarters, during which the central characters were on the court. The Nets held on for a 115-107 victory in the preseason opener at the Garden on Tuesday.
While Anthony made his Thunder debut in Tulsa, Okla., rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina made his Knicks debut off the bench. He shot just 1-for-7 in 18 minutes, but looked smooth in ably running the team with his pass-first philosophy.
“He got into his sets,’’ coach Jeff Hornacek said.
Tim Hardaway Jr., starting his second Knicks stint, bagged a team-high 17 points, making 5-of-11 from 3-point range, while Kristaps Porzingis added 15 points with on 6-for-14 shooting.
New Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell paced his team with 19 points as seven Nets hit double-figures.
“We got a lot of work to do,’’ Hornacek said of his defense. “I told the guys ‘wouldn’t you like to have 5 feet to shoot?’ We got to get more pressure.’’
Hornacek looked irate when he called timeout with 1:24 left in the third after an open jumper by Spencer Dinwiddie. None of the Knicks’ main rotation players saw the court in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks jumped to an 18-10 lead, but the Nets rallied and ultimately built an 18-point lead in the second half.
“We did a good job getting out of the gate then we let up,’’ Hardaway said. “We have to be able to get stops consistently. We’re still learning.”
The new Knicks regime is emphasizing defense-first, but the Knicks allowed the Nets too many 3-point buckets. The Nets were 8-of=19 from downtown in the first half. The Knicks often were in scramble mode, chasing open Nets shooters.
“We saw a lot of things we need to keep working on,’’ Porzingis said. “It’s the first preseason game. It’s not life or death yet.’’
Ntilkina, who missed the Orlando summer league with a knee injury, got his first taste of NBA ball with 6:33 left in the first quarter, receiving a big roar from the crowd as he entered. He picked up three assists and stepped up to bag a 3-pointer. He would have had four assists, but center Enes Kanter blew a layup after a pretty feed from a driving Ntilkina.
It was a rough night for Kanter, who was picked up in the Anthony trade.
“I was nervous,’’ he said. “It’s definitely different. I was nervous out there and it’s my seventh year. When you hear that cheer and roar it sent chills in my soul.’’
Ntilikina’s lone first-half error was having his bounce pass picked off by Trevor Booker, who glided the other way for an uncontested dunk.
The Knicks took an early 18-10 lead with Ramon Sessions starting at point guard, pushing the pace. But they frittered it away and the Nets led 59-57 at halftime. After Ntilikina came out, Sessions, signed as the Frenchman’s mentor, pulled him over to sit and chat.
Newcomer Doug McDermott, making the start at Anthony’s old small-forward, scored nine points in the opening half, hitting his first 3-point attempt, scoring on a fast-break layup and on a monster driving dunk down the lane. McDermott, also acquired in the Anthony trade, has impressed Hornacek in training camp and could nail down the job. He didn’t score in the second half in limited action.
Ntilikina, who hurt his groin Monday likely costing him the start, said he was relaxed before the game, but Porzingis said he had a talk with the rookie to calm him down.
“No way to be anxious, no way to be nervous,’’ Ntilikina said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s basketball and I’ve worked for it and I’ll try to get more experience every game.’’
Porzingis, brought out last during pregame introductions, took a team-high 11 shots in the first half, making just four and finished with 10 points at the break. He was active on the defensive end with a block and four rebounds. Hardaway was 3-of-5 from the 3-point line and scored a team-high 11 points by half.