MILWAUKEE — Kristaps Porzingis made his NBA debut in Milwaukee on Wednesday, more than 4,000 miles from his native country of Latvia.
But he got a small taste of home on his way out of the arena.
A group of Latvians from Milwaukee gathered outside of the New York Knicks‘ locker room to greet Porzingis about an hour after the final buzzer.
They said they were Bucks fans, but their attire suggested otherwise.
The Latvian crew was decked out in Porzingis’ No. 6 Knicks jersey.
“We admit we were rooting for Porzingis, too,” one said.
They weren’t the only Porzingis converts on Wednesday.
The rookie gave Knicks fans all over reason to hope with a 16-point, five-rebound debut in New York’s 25-point win.
“You couldn’t ask for more than that,” Carmelo Anthony said.
You also couldn’t ask for a better opener if you’re Phil Jackson.
New York thoroughly dominated Milwaukee thanks to a strong night from Porzingis and a remarkable performance from the second unit, which scored 73 of the team’s 122 points.
“We have a lot of guys that can play,” said reserve Derrick Williams, who scored a game-high 24 points. “Our goal this year is to be the best second unit out there.”
If that goal is realized, maybe the Knicks will find a way to surprise people this season and make a run at a playoff spot in the East.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In order to come close to seeing the postseason, the Knicks probably need a solid season from Porzingis, the No. 4 overall pick. He certainly showed flashes of being able to provide that on Wednesday.
After missing his first four shots, Porzingis settled down and found his way to the free throw line, which coincided with a good run for New York.
Porzingis’ seven free throws in the second quarter helped the Knicks build a 15-point halftime lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
“His level of aggression is remarkable for a young guy his size that doesn’t necessarily carry a lot of weight,” coach Derek Fisher said.
“I think anytime he’s on the floor, really good things can happen for us.”
After the game, Porzingis credited Anthony for finding him in places where he could attack.
“He just makes the game easier for us,” Porzingis said.
Anthony finished 4-for-16 in his first game back since knee surgery in February. But on an off night, he found a way to impact the game, finishing with five assists, tied with Jerian Grant for the team high. One of those assists was on a Porzingis 3-pointer in the third quarter.
“He made the right plays really most of the time he touched the basketball,” Fisher said.
The same could be said for most of the Knicks’ reserves in the opener.
Overall, New York’s bench outscored the Bucks’ reserves by 41 points.
“I told y’all a couple days ago that our bench is going to be a big key to what we do this season,” Anthony said.
Strong play from the bench and a solid night from Porzingis probably left many Knicks fans hopeful for what is to come. But it is worth noting that last year’s team started 2-1 before imploding to finish with a franchise-low 17 wins.
Anthony was reminded of that scenario late Wednesday night.
“I don’t remember last year. I try not to remember last year,” he said. “This is a different season, different vibe for us.”
So far, that vibe is a positive one — for the Knicks and their prized rookie.