Knicks hang on to beat Wizards, Porzingis, 100-97

The Knicks will always take special pleasure in snatching a win from former savior Porzingis. (Jason DeCrow/AP)

At least they beat Kristaps Porzingis.

The return of the savior-turned-villain to MSG became a nail-biter for the Knicks, who defeated Porzingis and the Wizards on Friday night, 100-97, continuing their too-little-too-late surge to end the season.

It ended with dramatics, as the Knicks, who led throughout, nearly blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. But Washington’s Kyle Kuzma missed his potential go-ahead trey with about five seconds remaining, and his teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope followed with a brick at the buzzer. It ended with a triumphant James Dolan shaking Porzingis’ hand and the Knicks (30-40) winning for the fifth time in their last seven games.

Porzingis, who finished with 18 points in 29 minutes, was booed early and often but it was hardly the level of vitriol the Latvian encountered during his first return to MSG in 2019. The building was on fire back then, with the anger over Porzingis’ trade demand still fresh.

A lot has happened in the last three years. And neither side should feel good about their lottery-bound positions.

In terms of consequence, Friday’s game was largely immaterial. Both teams are fighting for the 11th spot, or the first position out of the play-in tournament. They have outside chances at catching the Hawks or Hornets for No. 10, but they’re remote. It didn’t help that the Hawks beat the Grizzlies on Friday night, maintaining their five-game advantage over the Knicks (for the Wizards (29-40), losers of six consecutive, it’s now 5 ½ games behind Atlanta).

So the night became mostly about the theatrics of Porzingis’ return, and another reason to relitigate the Knicks’ biggest trade of the last decade.

Porzingis has been injury-prone since leaving the Knicks, and his defense – or lack thereof – has killed the projections of perennial All-Star. He was dealt from the Mavericks to the Wizards last month for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans, devolving, essentially, into a bad contract. He’s averaging over 19 points over 40 games with the familiar concerns about his defense and efficiency. He was killed on the glass Friday by Knicks center Mitchell Robinson, who grabbed 10 offensive rebounds.

Still, Porzingis carries the allure of a 7-foot-3 sharpshooter with mobility. The idea of Porzingis as a Unicorn is still alive, even if it’s on life support. He’s also back in the Eastern Conference so the Knicks could see him four times each season, assuming Porzingis is healthy and available.

“I enjoy this. I enjoy playing at MSG, whether it’s at home before or now on the road,” Porzingis said. “It’s always entertaining. The biggest stage. And again, receiving the boos. It is what it is. It’s in the past now. I love the city. I miss this city a lot. I miss a lot of people here. Yeah, it is what it is, but I really enjoyed my time here and I only have good memories from this place.”

On the other side was Porzingis’ power-forward replacement with the Knicks, Julius Randle, who emerged as a star last season but regressed this campaign. He scored 18 points on 18 points on 6-of-22 shooting. RJ Barrett also had 18 points on 6-of-22 from the field.

It wasn’t the smoothest performance, but the Knicks survived.

“Keep fighting,” Tom Thibodeau said. “Keep scratching.”