With 15 minutes remaining and the Knicks trailing by seven, head coach Jeff Hornacek submitted first-year NBAer Frank Ntilikina, who drew the assignment of Kyrie Irving. The matchup worked—from there, Irving shot 3-of-8 with a turnover as New York mounted a comeback that’d culminate in a 102-93 victory.
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) December 22, 2017
Frank Ntilikina’s defense pic.twitter.com/W2DZtA2aZH
— Parlons NBA (@ParlonsNBA) December 22, 2017
Irving offered high praise for the rookie, who was selected eighth overall in June.
Kyrie Irving on Frank Ntilikina: “He’s a great on ball defender, man. Very long. Very active. Not afraid of the big moments. Just a developing young player. Can’t wait to play against him more times throughout this league.”
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) December 22, 2017
Irving scored 23 points in 24 minutes of floor time before Ntilikina’s insertion late in the third quarter, mostly being defended by starting point guard Jarrett Jack. The Celtics point guard mustered just nine points while playing 13 of the 15 final minutes during the Knicks’ comeback.
“He still scored the ball but I tried to limit him, deny him, and made him work,” the rookie said of Irving. “… It was very challenging, [Irving is] one of the best point guards in the league. It was a challenge to limit him. We did a better job in the second half.”
For those outside New York and France, Ntilikina’s defensive adeptness should hardly be surprising. The 6’5″ point guard reportedly has the average wingspan of an NBA center, 7’1″, and was a lockdown defender in the top pro league in France. He twice claimed France’s Best Young Player award, which in the past has gone to the likes of Tony Parker, Clint Capela, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, and Ian Mahinmi.
Kristaps Porzingis left the game early with one point on 0-of-11 shooting after feeling a “pinch” in his knee.
The team then turned to veteran forward Michael Beasley, who powered the Knicks win with a 32-point, 12-rebound performance.