Porzingis relished in hostile Knicks crowd amid historic debut

Porzingis relished in hostile Knicks crowd amid historic debut originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Kristaps Porzingis was thrown into the fire in his Boston Celtics debut and responded by burning his former team.

Porzingis was a force at both ends Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, scoring 30 points -- the most ever by a player in their first game with the Celtics -- while adding eight rebounds and four blocks in Boston's 108-104 win on Opening Night.

Porzingis' strong performance came amid a chorus of boos from the Knicks crowd, who jeered the 7-foot-3 big man the entire night and at one point started a very loud "F--- Porzingis!" chant. The former Knicks lottery pick didn't seem bothered by the hostile reception, however.

"That was awesome,” Porzingis said after the game. “That was awesome, I’m not going to lie. Playing here at the Garden is always special as the home team, obviously, but also on the road here it’s really fun.

"At one point it got really crazy when the fans got into it and they made the comeback. But we stayed poised, we stayed calm and we were able to finish out the game on making some big plays and some free throws. Overall, a fun game to play in, for sure.”

Porzingis spent his first four NBA seasons with the Knicks after they selected him fourth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. While he made the All-Star team during his third season, he tore his ACL in February 2018 and never played a game for New York again, getting traded to the Dallas Mavericks in January 2019.

Now he's on the other side of the long-standing Celtics-Knicks rivalry, and he seemed to relish in it Wednesday night.

"Honestly it’s an awesome feeling to come back now, being a Celtic and playing here," Porzingis said. "Even getting booed and getting all of that is still cool. I enjoy that."

It helps that Porzingis showed out against his former team. With the score tied at 101-101 in the final two minutes, Porzingis drilled a huge 3-pointer (his fifth of the night) to help seal a gritty Boston victory. Even after picking up a pair of technical fouls earlier in the game -- one for flopping and one for elbowing Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein in the face after grabbing a rebound -- Porzingis kept his composure and continued delivering for his team.

Porzingis even admitted he had no hard feelings towards Knicks fans despite their chorus of boos.

"I think it was the way that exit happened," he said when asked why he thought he was booed. “I think it was that. Of course if you’re not with New York, you’re the enemy. And I understand that part completely. I miss this place and I wish nothing but the best for this organization."

That Porzingis elevated his game in a hostile environment is a great sign for the Celtics, who will need him to elevate his game in big moments when the postseason rolls around. In the meantime, he should get a much warmer reaction Friday night in Boston's home opener against the Miami Heat, with tip-off set for 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Boston.