Kristaps Porzingis still has a lot to learn in this league, but he’s got one of the more important aspects of self-preservation down pat: when LeBron James has a head of steam, make sure you’re not in his path.
James, buoyed by a complete and healthy Cavaliers roster for the first time in exactly 365 days, was his usual dominant self in Cleveland’s 91-84 home win over a pesky Knicks side. The high point for New York was rookie Kristaps Porzingis, who paced the team in both points (24) and rebounds (13). But Porzingis disappeared in the fourth, taking just one shot—and that a half-court heave as the buzzer expired.
“I got to be more aggressive at the end,” Porzingis said. “Maybe have more responsibility. As I grow as a player, I’ll have to be more important at the end.”
Porzingis was present, if not for very long, there in crunch time. With the Knicks down four and a minute left, James dribbled around Lance Thomas and came in for a functionally game-sealing tomahawk slam. Porzingis, along the baseline, wanted nothing to do with it.
The replays are great: Porzingis skitters into and quickly out of frame, like a foreground extra in a Godzilla movie running for cover.
It wasn’t all cringing and scurrying for Porzingis. He had an emphatic block on James’s layup in the second quarter, and the NBA put together a highlight reel of his “duel” with James. There wasn’t a ton of one-on-one between the two, but if anything it shows that Porzingis can hold his own against a very good team.
And the Cavs are very good, and only getting better. With the recent returns of Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, and Mo Williams, Cleveland is at full strength.
“It was a great feeling today,” James said afterward. “We was in the tunnel before we ran out and for the first time [fully healthy]. I cannot remember — and I can remember everything — I cannot remember the last time I looked in the huddle and we had everyone in uniform. That was a pretty good feeling.”
These Cavs have been solid to start the year, leading the East, but with James, Irving, and Kevin Love all back together, this is what they were supposed to be. Cleveland is 35-3 in its last 38 games with its Big Three together in the lineup, and there’s absolutely no reason not to expect a Finals rematch of last year. And what do you know? The fully loaded Cavs take on the historically great Warriors on Christmas Day tomorrow.
To tide you over until then, please take this commemorative AP photo of Kristaps Porzingis’s fight-or-flight response kicking in.