New York Knicks forward Julius Randle shoots over Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis. / Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Washington, DC—Friday night, there were playoff vibes in the air at Capital One Arena. The sold out crowd was at a fever pitch in anticipation for the match-up between the Washington Wizards and the visiting New York Knicks. Going into the game, the Knicks were holding down the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference race with a 33-27 record. The Wizards came into the game with a 28-30 record, chasing the Knicks. Unfortunately, this game didn’t go in the home team’s favor as the Knicks (34-27) defeated the Wizards (28-31) 115-109. The Wizards blew a 19 point lead because of the dominant play of Knicks forward Julius Randle and the Wizards inability to create offense for forward Kristaps Porzingis.
The game didn’t start poorly for Porzingis against his former team. In the first quarter, Porzingis was in the zone; scoring 19 points on only six shot attempts (5 of 6 from the field). Porzingis, known as the “Unicorn,” was perfect from the three point line going 5 of 5. Wizards’ fans in the arena were hype for every Porzinigis three ball attempt and the Wizards’ star did not disappoint in the quarter. The Wizards won the quarter 38-27. However, after that quarter, Porzingis didn’t have a shot attempt until the fourth quarter and the Wizards lost those remaining quarters. To make things worse, Porzingis went down with an apparent knee injury at the 7:04 mark in the third quarter. He eventually returned at the start of the fourth quarter. During the fourth quarter, he went 0 of 4 from the field and couldn’t regain his first quarter shooting rhythm. Porzingis finished the game with 23 points; he went 4 of 4 from the free throw line in the fourth. After the game, the Unicorn talked about what the Knicks and the Wizards may have done to limit his scoring.
“They started switching earlier with the pick and pops. We have seen that before. Of course, especially when we get going early in the game. I feel like we went away from that a little bit, maybe two man game with Brad [Beal]. We should have kept doing that.”
The high screen two-man game with guard Bradley Beal and Porzingis was effective in the first quarter. At times, Porzingis had switches with a smaller player on him due to the two-man game with Beal or other players on the Wizards. However, when Porzingis had a shorter defender on him, his teammates didn’t get him the ball. Wizards Coach Unseld Jr. said, the Knicks’ “level of physicality” halted Porzingis’ first quarter momentum.
The Wizards’ failure to get Porzingis shots during the last three quarters was not their only issue. Randle became a serious problem in the second quarter keeping the Knicks in the game. The Wizards had a 38-57 lead in the second quarter then the Knicks’ all-star dropped 13 points in the second to help cut the Wizards’ lead to 64-60 going into halftime. Randle was forceful going to the basket and had his three point game rolling (7 of 14 from the three point line). The New York fans in attendance were cheering loudly for every Randle three point shot and dunk. The game had playoff intensity and Randle performed like big time playoff performer. He finished the game with 46 points tying his career high.
This was a tough loss for the Wizards and their playoff hopes but Porzingis believes that this team is “very close” to becoming a successful team. For this to happen, the Wizard will have to find ways to better utilize Porzingis during these last 23 games. If they do that, this team maybe in the NBA Playoffs. If not, then they may have an early off-season.