Kristaps Porzingis hopes 4th quarter vs. Lakers a sign of things to come

Porzingis hopes 4th quarter takeover just the start originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — Midway through the fourth quarter on Saturday night, LeBron James bulldozed his way through Ish Smith for an and-1 layup and afterward held his hand out to suggest Smith was ‘too small.’ While James was celebrating in the moment, the gesture foreshadowed how the game would end.

It was just before that when Kristaps Porzingis checked in to replace Daniel Gafford as the Wizards’ center and in the closing minutes of the game, he took over to score 16 of his 27 points and lead Washington to a comeback victory in front of a soldout crowd. He did that by taking advantage of smaller players guarding him, in some cases simply shooting over hapless defenders. 

At 7-foot-3, few players in the NBA can match his height and the Lakers decided to counter by going small. It backfired.

“It just kind of happened naturally,” Porzingis said of his fourth quarter scoring surge. “We were getting a mismatch and I was trying to get out of there. I shot over a couple times on some smaller guys.”

Porzingis began the game 3-for-11, then made his final six shots. His biggest was a 3-pointer from 27 feet out with 38.7 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Tomas Satoransky drove into the lane and found him wide open at the top of the key. 

Porzingis scored 16 of the Wizards’ 21 points during a stretch of nearly seven minutes in the fourth. Part of that run included a two-handed dunk on James, which served as one of several exclamation points on the night.

“Just down the stretch, we wanted to play through him,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “No one could stop K.P. at the elbow. He was just turning around, shooting over everybody.”

Saturday’s win represented a step forward for Porzingis, who was playing in just his seventh game for the Wizards after arriving in a deal with the Mavericks at the Feb. 10 trade deadline. He missed a month in total with a bone bruise in his right knee, but is now back with few limitations other than a loose minutes restriction. Saturday was the first time he played in the second night of a back-to-back since returning.

“I think I’m building my way back up. I’m feeling good rhythm-wise and physically also. I still feel like I’m a good way away from where I want to be,” Porzingis said.

The more Porzingis plays for the Wizards, the more he is getting comfortable with his teammates and the expectations of head coach Wes Unseld Jr. The more he learns about them, the more he likes. In fact, Porzingis is already sensing the change of going from Dallas to Washington was a good one for him.

After Saturday’s game, he spoke glowingly of how the Wizards’ coaching staff and his teammates are trusting him in big moments, especially after he began the game cold. He believes there is a lot of potential in the fit he has found in Washington.

Part of that is because of how they use him, which he says includes more responsibility on the block.

“[In Dallas] I was on the perimeter the whole time. It was completely different to when I was in New York. I was making an adjustment to my game also to be effective in that kind of system. I think this system is better for my game. I’m being able to be more effective,” he said.

The Wizards have still lost five of their seven games with Porzingis in the lineup, though all of it has been without star guard Bradley Beal, who suffered a season-ending injury just before the trade deadline. Regardless of the game results, Porzingis is encouraged by how things have started with his new team.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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