A small but vociferous group of Knicks fans arrived at the Garden armed with boos and derisive chants to direct at Kristaps Porzingis, but what they wanted more than anything Friday night was a victory over the former Knicks All-Star and his current team.
Even with Porzingis mostly mired in a rocky shooting night, however, the Knicks followed Wednesday’s crushing loss at Minnesota by flushing a double-digit lead for the second consecutive game, in a 99-86 loss to the Mavericks. It was their third straight defeat and dropped them below .500 again at 24-25.
Porzingis heard throaty boos and “KP sucks” chants throughout the game, and the 7-foot-3 forward finished with 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting from the floor.
Still, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, the Knicks’ two leading scorers, also endured rough games offensively, combining for just 22 points on 8-for-31 shooting. Alec Burks had a team-high 20 points for the Knicks, who shot just 36.4 percent from the field, which included a 1-for-10 showing from Derrick Rose.
Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic registered a game-high 26 points and another former Knick, Tim Hardaway Jr., added 14 for the Mavericks (26-21), who were coached by assistant Jamahl Mosley after head coach Rick Carlisle revealed he had tested positive for COVID-19 before the game.
Randle was signed with some of the cap space the Knicks cleared with the blockbuster trade of Porzingis, Hardaway and others to the Mavericks in Feb. 2019, while Porzingis still was recovering from ACL surgery. The Knicks also control Dallas’ first-round picks in the 2021 and 2023 drafts, with this year’s projected to be the 21st overall selection entering Friday’s action.
Porzingis also had been booed heavily by a capacity crowd in his first game back at the Garden, a Knicks victory in November 2019. Friday’s gathering was much smaller due to COVID-19, but Porzingis still was noticeably jeered during pregame introductions. His first shot attempt was blocked by Randle, while his second missed the rim entirely from 3-point range, to the delight of the crowd.
“I think you just deal with where you are today,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked about Porzingis before the game. “I wasn’t here, so I can’t really comment on all that went into the decision-making there.
“He’s a good player, a terrific talent. They’re an excellent team. And we feel good about the people that we have. So we just worry about today, being ready to play against them. We know we have to play a 48-minute game to win.”
The fans kept the KP-directed derision going throughout the first quarter. Porzingis missed eight of his first nine shots from the field in the first half, including six straight from long range. The Knicks grabbed a 25-22 lead through 12 minutes behind five points apiece from Randle and Barrett and late 3-pointers from Immanuel Quickley and Burks.
Burks nailed two more 3s and Obi Toppin provided a spark with nine points off the bench — including a high-flying, one-handed slam on an offensive rebound — in the second quarter as the Knicks expanded their lead to 44-31 with 7:02 remaining.
But then, Thibodeau’s team went nearly six minutes without scoring and Dallas grabbed a 49-46 advantage at intermission on 3-pointers in the final minute of the half by Hardaway and Doncic to cap an 18-2 closeout run.
Porzingis was called for a technical foul after the second quarter ended, however, and the Knicks netted the first eight points of the third beginning with Quickley’s free throw.
Porzingis finally connected from beyond the 3-point arc for a 55-54 Dallas lead, and his pull-up jumper a few minutes later extended the cushion to six en route to a 72-69 Knicks hole entering the final period.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Jalen Brunson and Doncic helped put Dallas up by 15 with barely three minutes remaining in the fourth.