Sure, Kristaps Porzingis is still no more than a dark-horse candidate for NBA MVP honors this season. Except … that’s no horse, it’s a unicorn, and the sheer joy of teammate Kyle O’Quinn on Tuesday told the tale of yet another magical night at Madison Square Garden.
Porzingis’s 28 points — which marked just the third time in 10 games that he’s been below 30 — included two impressive baskets down the stretch that sealed a 118-113 Knicks win over the Hornets. With a little under two minutes left, the 7-foot-3 Latvian hit a three-pointer from well behind the arc to break a 111-111 tie, and then, with just 11 seconds left, he drove past a defender to barely beat the shot clock with a layup (New York’s Courtney Lee hit a pair of free throws with no time left to provide the team’s final points).
When Porzingis hit the three-point shot, the Garden crowd predictably went berserk, but no one was more excited than O’Quinn, who provided what can only be described as the reaction of the season.
— NBA (@NBA) November 8, 2017
In case you missed that, or simply want to savor that look on O’Quinn’s face some more, here’s another look:
Kyle O'Quinn turning into one of the league's premier bench celebrators pic.twitter.com/c24V1wXkU3
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) November 8, 2017
In fact, it wasn’t long before O’Quinn’s expression was given the Internet-meme treatment:
when the ice cream machine actually works pic.twitter.com/WXvwIT5nJc
— SB Nation (@SBNation) November 8, 2017
That’s the face of a man who can barely believe what he’s seeing, which is understandable, given that O’Quinn is in his third season with the Knicks and thus has endured two campaigns of 50-plus losses, not to mention unending Phil Jackson- and Carmelo Anthony-related drama. However, New York parted ways with both before this season, and in what may not be a coincidence, has won six of seven to make a distant memory of its 0-3 start.
The idea behind starting this season without Jackson and Anthony was to allow Porzingis to blossom, but he has gone from “future NBA superstar” to “current NBA superstar” faster than anyone expected. Entering Tuesday’s game, his 30.2 points-per-game average was second in the NBA, his 2.2 blocks were third and his 28.7 player efficiency rating (per Basketball Reference) was fourth.
On Monday, Porzingis was named Eastern Conference player of the week, following two Knicks wins in which he scored 37 and 40 points, adding a combined 15 rebounds and a whopping nine blocks. As with O’Quinn, Porzingis is in his third season in New York, and considering that he’s just 22, the Knicks’ future looks very bright.
That’s assuming that the Knicks can eventually sign their new franchise player to a contract extension, rather than see him hit free agency in a couple of years. Porzingis’s older brother Janis gave fans of the team cause for worry last week, when he said that the Knicks were no lock to keep him just because they could offer the most money.
However, that’s a concern for further down the road, one that will presumably lessen if the Knicks can keep winning. In the meantime, fans at the Garden have plenty for which to cheer, including a defensive sequence Tuesday in which Porzingis teamed with O’Quinn to deny Charlotte’s Cody Zeller on several consecutive layup attempts.
Tuesday marked the second straight game in which Porzingis and the Knicks came back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to win. Yes, unusually happy things are happening at MSG, and the look on O’Quinn’s face says it all.
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