LOS ANGELES — Notes from deep inside Staples Center on a Sunday night.
1) Kristaps Porzingis puts on show in Los Angles, beating Lakers while fans dream of what might have been. You can’t blame Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers for drafting D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick — he’s a gifted passer, shot the ball well in college, and after working him out they saw a potential star. He’s showing promise (at worst, he’s going to be a good point guard in the league for years.)
However, the most talked about player in the 2015 draft was Kristaps Porzingis. He was 7’3” with t a 7’6” wingspan, moved fluidly on the court, and had three point shooting range. However, even the scouts that thought he had the most upside in the draft (him or Karl-Anthony Towns) considered KP a major project that could take years to develop. If he developed at all. He was higher risk and higher reward than Russell (the point guard was going to be solid at worst, where Porzingis had a long line of Euro bigs who went bust in front of him), and most GMs play it safe in that spot rather than risk a potential job-ending bust. Porzingis fell to the Knicks with the fourth pick (one Phil Jackson tried to trade out of on draft night, but that’s another story).
No need to be patient for Knicks fans, Porzingis has already developed into the best player on the team.
Sunday night, Porzingis came to Staples Center and put on a show for Los Angeles fans — 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven blocked shots, leading the Knicks to a 118-112 win over the Lakers. It was the blocks that may have been most impressive.
“I was just trying to protect the rim as always, and they didn’t really have a stretch four so I was able to be closer to the basket,” Porzingis said after the Knicks . “I told my teammates not to foul because I was going to go for the block close to the rim, and I was able to do that.”
Porzingis was scoring inside, hitting threes, showing off an impressive array of shots for a second-year player, and also displaying a great feel for the game. He also got help. In the first quarter, it was Carmelo Anthony passing out of double teams in ways that left the Lakers defense scrambling. In the fourth it was Brandon Jennings hitting threes and pushing the ball in transition (he had 15 in the quarter). Then there was the hot shooting of Derrick Rose, 12-15 for 25 points on the night, with his floater in full effect.
“I was just taking what the defense was giving me, and they were giving me the lane,” Rose said.
You couldn’t watch the game and not be wowed by what Porzingis can do. Lakers fans were. And you can’t blame them for daydreaming about what might have been.
2) Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak ends at seven games. See, he sucks. Thunder get win anyway. It doesn’t always have to be the Russell Westbrook show for Oklahoma City… okay, yes it does, and he’s usually up to the task, but sometimes he gets help. Westbrook’s triple-double streak ended at seven games against the Celtics, but he still had 37 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. He had 13 in the fourth quarter when the Thunder outlasted the Celtics for the win. He was flat-out phenomenal again.
The difference in this game was angry Russ got some help — Thunder players not named Westbrook shot 15-for-22 in the second half. The Thunder outscored the Celtics 24-13 in the final eight minutes of the game. Despite that, Marcus Smart got a clean look at a three to tie it at the end of regulation, but missed. But the story wasn’t Boston and it’s at times disjointed offense on the night. It was Westbrook falling short of a record but getting the win he wanted more.
3) Minnesota falls again, this time to Golden State, now Thibodeau takes his team back to Chicago. There is no shame in losing to Golden State, but it’s how the Timberwolves did it that will sting — they caught the Warriors on the fourth game in five nights, coming off a blowout loss, and looking fatigued. This would be a “schedule makers’ loss” for the Warriors.
Except Golden State went on a 25-4 run to open the fourth quarter and pull away enough to hold on for the win. Klay Thompson poured in 14 of his 30 in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves shot 36.8 percent in the fourth, didn’t hit a shot outside the paint in the quarter, plus just didn’t defend well. Sure, the Warriors have another gear that the Timberwolves do not have (actually, a few of them), but this was a tired Warriors team at the end of a road trip that could have been beaten. Instead, it was the Warriors that showed heart.
We all thought Tom Thibodeau would whip the Minnesota defense into shape, they would defend like beasts, and we would see this team take a step forward this season. Clearly, there is some disconnect between Thibodeau and the players right now, and it’s up to the coach and GM to fix that.
But first, Thibodeau has to take his team back to Chicago. That should be interesting.