NEW YORK (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis was aware of Phil Jackson’s concern that he wasn’t ready to take over. Once Carmelo Anthony was traded, he knew he’d get the chance to prove otherwise.
Porzingis scored a career-high 40 points, carrying the New York Knicks back from a 19-point deficit for a 108-101 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night.
“The challenge is never too big for me,” said Porzingis, who is the first player in the NBA since 1983-84 to post at least 40 points, five rebounds, five blocks and make two 3-pointers.
“I always accept the challenge and that’s why I knew coming into this season, if Melo was not going to be here, then I am going to have to be the guy.”
After scoring 15 straight points that spanned the third and fourth quarters, the 22-year-old from Latvia passed to rookie Frank Ntilikina for a 3-pointer that broke a 99-all tie with 1:34 remaining.
“I had to get rid of the ball,” Porzingis said. “That was the right play in that moment. Frank made that big shot.”
Porzingis added eight rebounds and six blocked shots in his seventh 30-point performance in nine games this season, a good glimpse of someone that’s definitely welcomed the chance to fill the void created by Anthony’s exit.
Ntilikina scored 10 points and seven assists off the bench as the Knicks won for the fifth time in six games after an 0-3 start. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 16 points.
Ntilikina’s 3-pointer was his second of a fourth quarter in which he played its entirety.
“I knew it was a good shot, a wide-open shot,” he said. “Nobody was there to deny the shot, so I took it. And I just took it with confidence.”
Thaddeus Young scored 18 points and Victor Oladipo had 17 for the Pacers, who led 84-65 with under 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“They went to switching. We didn’t show patience in attacking the mismatch,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said.
Porzingis, who played after tweaking his left ankle in a 37-point performance Friday night, reeled off nine straight points that made it 84-74 in the opening seconds of the fourth. He scored 24 points over the final 13 minutes of the game.
Young then broke a five-minute stretch in which Indiana failed to make a shot, hitting consecutive 3-point baskets that put them back up 90-74 with 10:02 left in the final quarter.
But it wasn’t enough to quiet down the Knicks, who went on a 25-9 run, capped by Porzingis’ five straight points, including a 17-foot jumper that evened it at 99 with 2:14 left.
After Ntilikina’s 3-pointer made it 102-99, Knicks center Enes Kanter picked up a bad pass by Darren Collison and fed Tim Hardaway Jr. for a layup that made it 104-99 with 1:10 to go.
Oladipo cut the deficit to 104-101 with 32 seconds left in the game, but Lance Thomas’ two free throws made it 106-101 to seal the comeback win with 11.9 seconds to play.
“Porzingis, he obviously got hot and brought them back into the game to help win the game,” Oladipo said. “It is a tough loss for us, especially being up. I got to do better as a leader as well, especially down the stretch of the fourth quarter.”
Myles Turner added 15 points and Collison had 15 points and 10 assists for the Pacers, who’ve lost two straight.
Pacers: F T.J. Leaf, who sprained his left ankle during Friday night’s game in Philadelphia, did not play. ... Domantas Sabonis had 16 points off the bench.
Knicks: Kanter grabbed 18 rebounds. . Patrick Ewing was last Knick to have at least 40 points, five boards and five blocks, posting up 46/12/6 on March 7, 1995, against Boston. The last NBA player to put that stat line was Dwight Howard on Feb. 25, 2011, against the Thunder.
A moment of silence was held prior to the national anthem at Madison Square Garden after a gunman killed 26 people and injured at least 20 at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The Knicks improved to 3-1 during their five-game homestand, which equals their longest of the season. They have two more home stretches of five games later in the second of the season, March 11-19 and March 31-April 9.