NEW YORK – Dwight Howard's unforgiving dunk on New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis is the type of play that gets shared thousands of times on social media and replayed endlessly on highlight shows. Porzingis, a media-savvy 20-year-old, knows this as well as anyone.
So you’d think he might be a little hesitant to talk about it. Not many elite athletes, after all, are comfortable discussing moments of failure.
But Porzingis didn’t seem to mind talking about the play at all late Sunday night. He actually had a not-so-subtle message for Howard while discussing it.
“He dunked on me; he got me. I was asking [my teammates], ‘When is the next game against Houston? I want to get him back,’” Porzingis said with a grin. "You know, it happens. He’s a great player. I’m looking forward to playing next time against him."
Howard’s dunk, of course, was one of many tough moments for the Knicks on Sunday. They couldn’t hold a 14-point lead with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter and fell to Houston in overtime, 116-111. It was the club's fourth consecutive loss and an all-around ugly night for a team suddenly stuck in the mud.
But one of the few positives on Sunday was how Porzingis reacted to getting dunked on.
Here's why: the Knicks rookie has been celebrated far and wide early this season for aspects of the his play that are measurable. Things like his height, his offensive-rebound rate, his blocks-per-48 minutes all have fed into the fans' fascination with Porzingis.
But the Knicks and others around the NBA are also impressed with some things that you can't measure -- Porzingis' confidence, his competitive nature, his resolve.
Or, as Howard himself put it before Sunday’s game, “I like where his head’s at.”
Unfortunately for Porzingis and the Knicks, the rookie’s head was slumped toward the ground shortly after Howard’s arena-shaking dunk.
Howard said after the game that he and Marcus Thornton planned the play during the break between the fourth quarter and overtime. It began with a screen and roll between Thornton and Howard. Kevin Seraphin, defending Howard on the play, came over to try to slow down Thornton, the ball-handler.
Porzingis rotated into the paint from the weak side as Howard rolled to the rim. Porzingis hoped to stop Howard’s free run to the basket, but Thornton noticed that the rookie was stuck in “no man’s land.” So he threw it near the rim.
“I saw Porzingis jump,” Howard said, “and the rest is history.”
For Porzingis, it was the worst kind of history.
No one wants to be on the wrong end of a play that was tailor made for a six-second Vine. But the rookie's response showed a fearlessness and fortitude that should serve him well as he continues to navigate life in the NBA.