This was trying on that old jacket and finding a wad of bills you had stashed and forgotten about. It was that predicted Nor’easter turning into a mere March shower. It was something positive, something upbeat for the Knicks, who haven’t had too many grin-filled moments lately, unless you consider one win, now in 17 games, as overachieving.
It was Kristaps Porzingis vowing to return to All-Star form following the torn ACL that devastated his left knee and ruined any chance for something resembling success in the Knicks season.
“I believe that I’m going to come back better and stronger,” Porzingis said at the Garden on Tuesday night.
Now that should have fired up the Knicks to no end. They should have gone into “Win One for the Zinger” mode. Instead they went out and served up a third quarter flatter than a pancake and lost to the Mavericks, 110-97, hardly a rousing response to their injured All-Star’s presence. A 60-point first half had the Knicks up three. A 26-12, advantage Dallas, third quarter had the Knicks down 11 entering the fourth.
Not quite win one for the hurt guy. But for one game in a dreadful season, a limping unicorn helped the Knicks smile.
“It made us feel so nice. Just to have his presence, having him here is always good for the team,” Frank Ntilikina said. “I have a special relationship with him even if it’s not a long time that I have been here. Kristaps is just a good friend and a good teammate so having him back here, having the chance to see him walking felt good.”
That sort of tells you what kind of season the Knicks are having. Seeing a player walk is a big deal.
“I was [bleeping] pumped,” said Kyle O’Quinn, who broke in on Porzingis’ pregame session with the media and hugged the big guy, who had been at practice Monday for a team photo shoot. “It warmed my heart tremendously. He went through something that was tough on him and his family. But For him to come through here with that big smile, it lightened up the locker room. Everybody was excited to see him.”
They probably would have preferred seeing him on the floor. But that should come next year, if the 10-12 month speculated time frame comes through. But for one night, the Knicks took what they could get.
“It was really, really good to see him walking, good to see him smiling. It was just an unfortunate situation, so it was really good to see him walking,” Lance Thomas said. “He told me stuff was going really well. He has a positive mindset, so that’s all we could ask for.”
Next, the real return. Porzingis said he is already working on his upper body, doing what he can.
“I was shocked at first. I couldn’t believe that it happened to me,” Porzingis said. “And then about 30 seconds later I said, ‘OK, what can I do now?’… I changed my mindset, positive mindset and started working.”
And in the work there was only one resolve, that whole come-back-better thing.
And there is legitimate reason for optimism. Porzingis is not the only young stud. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was near effusive in his praise of Ntilikina.
“New York has got a foundation piece with him. He’s not putting up big numbers but he is an excellent defender. His recognition of situations and his shooting all that stuff is going to take quantum leaps,” Carlisle said. “l was really impressed with him when we played them back in January.”
So figure, barring trades, earthquakes or other devastating injuries, Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay and Tim Hardaway Jr and Enes Kanter — all 26 or younger — will continue growing and building chemistry. And regardless of which way the rebuilding goes, there will always be room for a 7-foot-3 stud, especially if he’s in All-Star form.