NEW YORK -- As Kristaps Porzingis rose up and turned a Luka Doncic missed 3-pointer into a thundering two-handed dunk to tie the score heading into the fourth quarter, a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd appeared momentarily confused. Their first reaction was to cheer, but then a collective realization seemed to wash over the crowd: Porzingis, once a beloved New York Knicks star, was now the enemy.
The crowd had spent the previous 36 minutes aggressively booing, taunting and shouting obscenities at the former face of the Knicks franchise. They opted not to stop after one flashy play. The Knicks were able to pull out a 106-103 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
"I don't know if it was fair or not," Porzingis said of the booing. "I don't really think about that too much. It is what it is, and we came here to win a game. We're frustrated that we didn't get it done."
There was no ceremonious tribute video or standing ovation for Porzingis. He was booed while he went through layup line. Fans interrupted the national anthem with screams of "Go back to Latvia" and "Traitor."
Porzingis was booed during the introduction of Dallas' starting lineup. He was booed every time he touched the ball and every time he took a shot. Sometimes, Porzingis was booed without any apparent reason.
This was the welcome Porzingis, 24, had expected in his first game back at Madison Square Garden since he was traded from New York to Dallas in January. On Wednesday, Porzingis said that if social media were any indication, he expected a negative response.
"Whew, that was pretty loud," Porzingis said after the game. "Their fans are really -- really passionate."
Porzingis arrives at MSG for return game vs. Knicks
Kristaps Porzingis arrives at Madison Square Garden ahead of his first game back in New York against his former Knicks team.
There were moments that the crowd's jeers passed "passionate" and teetered on the edge of cruel. Less than two minutes into the game, chants of "KP sucks" broke out. The arena broke out in the chant again as the New York City dancers ran to center court during the first timeout.
The game began wobbly for Porzingis. He stopped short of hustling for rebounds and appeared hesitant to shoot the ball. He didn't get his first field goal until the 8:13 mark of the second quarter, when he scored on a putback. He missed his first four shots from the field but finished the half with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting and 8 rebounds.
When he began to find his rhythm in the second quarter, a smattering of fans donning Porzingis No. 6 New York jerseys cheered. Still, the booing commenced once again when Porzingis air-balled a 3-point attempt. Fans weren't done. During the second quarter when Porzingis shot free throws, the crowd shouted "a--hole" repeatedly.
Tribute videos have become a popular way for teams to honor their former players and it was noticeable that one didn't play for Porzingis. The San Antonio Spurs projected one onto the Jumbotron in Kawhi Leonard's return. Dwyane Wade received one when he played for the Bulls and first returned to play the Miami Heat. The Atlanta Hawks even gave Mike Scott a tribute video. Porzingis spent the first 3½' seasons of his career with the Knicks and blossomed into an All-Star with the franchise.
Porzingis on boos: The crowd was loud
Kristaps Porzingis comments on his return to Madison Square Garden and the reaction from the Knicks fans.
He finished Thursday night with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Doncic added 33 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in the loss. Marcus Morris led the way for the Knicks with 20 points.
Knicks coach David Fizdale had high praise for Doncic after the game.
"He's going to push Dirk [Nowitzki] for the greatest European player to ever play this game when it's all said and done," Fizdale said.
Doncic said that the triple-double meant "nothing" because "I wanted the win." He had said on Wednesday that the team would make a concerted effort to support Porzingis in hostile territory.
"It was really tough for him," Doncic said Thursday. "I don't think he deserved it. He gave a lot to the Knicks. They booed him at the draft. I don't think he deserves this, in my point of view, but he handed it professionally and I am really proud of him."
A handful of Porzingis' staunchest booers took a brief break from heckling to chant "Melo! Melo!" after news of Carmelo Anthony signing with the Blazers made its way around the arena.
At one point, when Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle pulled Porzingis from the floor midway through the first quarter, one fan screamed, "Put Porzingis back in so I can boo him!" The crowd was committed to booing and traducing the former Knicks star until the final buzzer sounded.