Kristaps Porzingis’ fast start to his NBA career has only furthered the natural comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. And Porzingis’ performance Monday night will only ramp them up.
Porzingis faced his idol for the first time and had a better statistical game than did Nowitzki, Europe’s best NBA import. But as hard as Porzingis tried to lead the Knicks over the Mavericks, the deficit was too big to overcome.
The Knicks fell behind by 23 points in the third quarter and lost to Dallas, 104-97, at Madison Square Garden. It was their sixth loss in eight games and dropped them to 10-12.
Porzingis started slowly but was brilliant down the stretch. He scored 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and brought the Knicks within four in the final minute.
“He’s for real,” Nowitzki said. “He’s way ahead of the curve. When I was 20, I was scared to death out there.”
“Porzingis is a special player,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “New York has Phil Jackson to thank, because a lot of others didn’t have the [guts] to pull the trigger.”
The rookie from Latvia shot 13-for-18 from the field but grabbed only two rebounds. Carmelo Anthony shot 6-for-18 and finished with 17 points and eight assists. He had a dreadful end to the game and missed all three of his fourth-quarter shots.
Nowitzki led Dallas (13-9) with 25 points and six rebounds. He got plenty of help from a couple of New York castoffs. Former Net Deron Williams had 20 points and seven assists and former Knick Raymond Felton added 14 points.
Boos rained down on the Knicks early in the fourth quarter when they fell behind 92-72, but they made a run and got within 98-91 with 3:51 remaining on Porzingis’ shot in the lane. Anthony had a bad stretch after that with two misses, a turnover and a technical foul.
Porzingis buried a three-pointer to bring the Knicks within 101-94. Dallas didn’t score on its next trip, but neither did the Knicks as Jose Calderon missed a layup with Porzingis wide open for a three-pointer.
After Felton missed inside, Porzingis converted another three-pointer to make it 101-97 with 43.2 seconds to go. Porzingis then swatted Williams’ layup attempt, but the Knicks came up empty because Anthony was called for another offensive foul.
Nowitzki then was fouled and hit a free throw with 18.2 seconds left to make it a five-point game.
There’s no debating that Porzingis is ahead of where Nowitzki was as a rookie.
Nowitzki, a skinny 7-footer when he came to the NBA from Germany, struggled in his first season but developed into an unstoppable player and shooter. The Knicks have visions of Porzingis eventually having similar success, although Derek Fisher said it’s too early to make any comparisons.
“I don’t like to compare,” Fisher said. “I just don’t see how you take two minutes of something and compare it to something for 15 or 18 years or however many years Dirk has been playing. I don’t think it’s fair to either guy, so I’ve never been in the business of doing it.
“Obviously, Dirk has been a Hall of Fame-caliber player for a long time and Kris has potential that shows his upside is maybe equally as high, but I think we have to kind of let him tie his other shoe before we start comparing him to all of these other guys.”
Porzingis has drawn comparisons to fellow Europeans Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. But he is trying to create his own destiny, and his teammates have marveled at his attitude and his approach as much as his game.
Nowitzki was driven to be an all-time great, and at 37 he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. “It seems like he’s just as dangerous as he’s always been,” Fisher said.
Nowitzki scored nine of the Mavericks’ first 11 points and had 16 points at the half on only nine shots. Porzingis wasn’t involved early. He scored 10 in the first half, but it was quiet and he had zero rebounds.
It was a very efficient and effective first half for not only Nowitzki but for all the Mavericks. Dallas shot 53.7 percent from the field and 55 percent on three-pointers (11-for-20) and led 63-50 at the half. Williams had 16 points on only nine shots.
The Knicks actually shot the ball well themselves, hitting on 51.2 percent of their tries. But their defense hurt them right from the start, and it continued to be an issue in the third quarter as they fell behind by 23.