The good news is that whatever may have been broken with Kristaps Porzingis’ offensive game appeared to be just fine Friday night.
The bad news?
Pretty much everything else.
Porzingis would have been fine if the reverse was true – if it included a victory for the Mavericks.
But it didn’t. His first appearance against his old team resulted in a 106-102 New York win at American Airlines Center, which continues to be a mystery that the Mavericks cannot solve.
Porzingis and Luka Doncic combined for 66 points, 23 rebounds and 10 assists (all by Doncic as he registered his fourth triple double in eight games. That looks good on paper, but it couldn’t save the Mavericks from themselves.
Sloppy defense and a hot 3-point shooting night by New York doomed the Mavericks, who fell to 5-3 overall and are now 2-3 at AAC. They also surrendered 50 percent shooting to the Knicks from 3-point range (14-of-28) and got waxed in the rebounding department, plus had a coldish shooting night themselves.
It all added up to a disappointing night and a waste, considering that Doncic and Porzingis were so strong offensively.
Porzingis had voiced his concerns about what he perceived to be substandard play in the first two weeks of the season after missing 20 months because of a major knee injury.
Apparently, going against his old team helped settle things down.
“I felt good today,” said Porzingis, who finished with 28 points and nine rebounds, hitting half of his 22 shots. “What I did was just try to relax out there, let the game come to me and take good shots. Be aggressive, but be relaxed at the same time and it worked for me today.
“I’ve been kind of overthinking these last few games and that’s when you don’t make the best decisions.”
The game was tied at 92 after the Mavericks had been fighting from behind most of the night. But the Knicks rattled off nine consecutive points, starting when Marcus Morris hit three free throws after being fouled by Porzingis.
The Mavericks couldn’t recover, although they did make things interesting. They got within four points, but Plano Prestonwood product Julius Randle (21 points) got an offensive rebound and hit two free throws with 30 seconds to go to put the Knicks up 105-99 with 30 seconds left. Tim Hardaway Jr. made a triple, but after the Knicks missed two free throws, Doncic missed a 3-pointer with one foot on the center-court logo.
Afterward, he wasn’t happy with that shot.
“I made a bad decision,” he said. “That wasn’t the shot I was looking for. I let my team down.”
Well, not really. Without his efforts all game, the Mavericks would never have had a chance to steal a win at the end. The Knicks, led by Marcus Morris with 29 points, had their second win of the season against seven losses.
Doncic finished with a career-best 38 points to go with 14 rebounds and 10 assists, his fourth triple-double of the young season.
Much hype was made about Porzingis meeting up with New York for the first time since he was traded to Dallas. The Knicks drafted him fourth overall in 2015 and traded him last season to the Mavericks, about a year after he’d suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
“I thought he was great,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “The difference tonight after him thinking about a lot of things the last couple days and us talking about things the last couple days, he really just moved and played within the system and allowed the game to come to him.
“When a player like him does that with a guy like Doncic on the floor, a lot of good things are going to happen to him. The other real encouraging thing was he got an inside game going tonight and was able to get separation and made three or four when people switched on him. And he had five blocked shots. He had a terrific game.”
Besides Porzingis and Doncic, the only other Maverick in double figures was Hardaway, who had 14. The three starters besides Doncic and Porzingis – Dorian Finney-Smith, Courtney Lee and Dwight Powell had 3, 2 and 1 points, respectively.
This game, however, was all about Porzingis and while the home woes are worrisome, the Mavericks now hit the road for three games, starting Saturday night at Memphis.
“It was a tough game,” Porzingis said. “They played well. It was not a great night for us as a team. But we were right there at the end. It was a tough one for us, but that’s the good thing about the NBA. We got another chance tomorrow.
“Out of all these games, I was probably the most relaxed out there. Tonight was a great opportunity against my old team. I just wanted to play well. I took a step forward. Sucks that we didn’t get the win.”
Fitting analogy: Carlisle before Friday’s game said that he felt like Porzingis was taking a similar path to another NBA player who had a major injury and is just now coming back to his prime.
“How long does this take?” he said repeating the question about how long a recovery takes after a major surgery like Porzingis. “In today’s NBA, the real-life example is Gordon Hayward, who missed an entire year, came back at the beginning of last year and fought through regaining conditioning, regaining everything that goes into a highly efficient NBA player. He had good stretches last year, but you could just tell how challenging it was for him to get real traction.
“And now this year, he’s top three or four in shot efficiency. So in his case, it took a year and a summer and a training camp to really get back to that fine-tuned level. I’m not saying it’s going to take that long for KP. But what I am saying is that we all have to manage expectations about this. He has to do the same, which is not easy.”
Dorian Finney-Smith missed four months in the 2017-18 season then came back for the final month. He said he didn’t feel completely like himself until the final games of that season and, truthfully, it was the following season before he was all the way back.
“It took forever,” Finney-Smith said. “I played the last 15 or 20 games, and I didn’t feel right until the last ones. Mentally, you don’t want to do too much. Physically, you still want to trust your ability.
“KP’s doing a good job. I guess he hasn’t been living up to his standard, but he’s a good team player and we’re winning.”