Carmelo Anthony found himself in the same position regularly over the past six-plus years at Madison Square Garden.
But Anthony’s now in Oklahoma City, so this is Porzingis’ real estate.
And for the first time this year, Porzingis was asked to serve as the focal point for New York down the stretch of a tight game.
The result wasn’t ideal. The Knicks made 10 of 16 shots after Porzingis checked in in the fourth but couldn’t get any important stops down the stretch in a 111-107 loss to the Pistons.
The defeat stung for a number of reasons: the Knicks couldn’t hold on to a 21-point first-half lead, they allowed the Pistons to shoot 50 percent in the second half after defending well for stretches in the first 24 minutes, and they went away from moving the ball in the final two quarters once the game tightened up.
But if this season is really about development more than the wins and losses, Saturday offered an important opportunity for Porzingis: how to handle life as the No. 1 option in a close game.
Here’s what he learned:
“I think in the third quarter I should have been more aggressive from the beginning, getting inside and getting fouled. We settled for jump shots early on and they kept running, getting good shots in transition,” he said after attempting three shots in the third. “If I was more aggressive inside I would have stopped their transition, got fouled or some buckets.”
New York made life too easy for Detroit in the second half by taking a few quick perimeter shots and failing to defend in transition. That’s one of several reasons why the Knicks were outscored by 17 in the second half.
Could Porzingis have helped slow the Pistons down by getting the ball inside a few times? Sure. After all, he scored in the post three times in the first quarter amid his 7-for-7 start to the game.
But no amount of Porzingis post attempts would have masked the Knicks’ struggles from beyond the arc. New York missed 15 of 20 attempts and starting shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. struggled from the field all night, making 4 of 16 shots.
Still, Porzingis chided himself for going away from those inside looks in the second. He also said he could have handled Stan Van Gundy’s decision to switch Anthony Tolliver (6-foot-8, 240 pounds) onto him a little better.
“He was just trying to be aggressive and be all over me,” Porzingis said. “I should have done a better job when he’s so into me — drive by him or be aggressive and get fouled.”
Porzingis hit 3 of 7 shots in the fourth quarter as the game hung in the balance, and he and the Knicks struggled to slow down Detroit’s pick-and-roll late in the game.
He also passed up a 3-point shot with the Knicks down three with 37 seconds to play, instead taking the ball to the basket. His layup attempt was blocked by Andre Drummond. Porzingis felt he was fouled on the play, something visual evidence later confirmed.
Given how things played out for the Knicks for much of the second half — and particularly late in the game — it will be interesting to see how Porzingis alters his approach the next time the Knicks find themselves in a close game.