Bobby Portis
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Bobby Portis and New York Knicks fans were all smiles on Monday night as the effervescent big man led his team to a wild comeback victory.

Danny Small

NEW YORK, NY—It wasn’t a typical “revenge game” at Madison Square Garden, but Bobby Portis was exactly the spark the New York Knicks needed. Staring down the barrel of a possible 0-4 start, Portis’ explosion in the second half brought the Knicks back from an 18-point deficit to secure the win, 105-98.

Chants of “Bob-by Por-tis” rained down at the Garden. It felt like Game 7 of the NBA Finals, but it was just an October meeting with the Chicago Bulls. Portis finished the game with 28 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter. He also added 11 rebounds against his former team for good measure.

“Revenge game” probably isn’t the best way to describe this effort from Portis. After all, he played the Bulls three times after Chicago traded him to the Washington Wizards last season. However, more importantly, there is no animosity between Portis and his former team. In fact, Bulls head coach Jim Boylen heaped effusive praise on Portis after the game.

“I’ve always said Bobby Portis is one of my favorite guys of all time,” Boylen told reporters after the game. “Tough, competitive guy who works and cares. … He played great tonight. I’m disappointed that we lost, I’m happy for him that he played well. He’s a great kid. If everyone in the league is like him, we’ve got a hell of a league.”

While there’s still a strong bond between Portis and his former team, there is a friendly rivalry that seems to energize the 6-foot-10 big man. After his first basket—a 16-footer from the left side—Portis barked something at the Chicago bench.

“I’m just an animated player,” Portis told ESNY about his first bucket. “I don’t know what I’m saying sometimes. I just have fun. I play with a ton of energy, a ton of toughness, and I’m just being myself. I don’t feel like I was myself the first couple of games and I didn’t bring the energy so I had to get back to who I am.”

The Knicks would love for Portis to play every game like it’s against the Bulls. He finished the night shooting 11-for-14 from the field and a perfect 4-for-4 from deep, three of which came in the fourth quarter. Although he still has his struggles on the defensive end, he finished with two nice blocks and a ridiculous plus-minus of 31.

Looking at plus-minus on a game-by-game basis can be misleading, but it’s impossible to overlook that kind of crooked number. The Knicks have been waiting for this Bobby Portis to arrive.

“I said, ‘Just keep letting that thing fly and keep attacking and being yourself. Show your passion for it and don’t hold back.’ Tonight he really unleashed it. What a game he had there,” Knicks head coach David Fizdale told reporters after the game.

When general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills signed the 24-year-old, this is the player they envisioned. On a night when Mitchell Robinson was not at his best, Portis held the line off the bench.

But even if this was just another regular-season game in October, Portis and Knicks fans were having fun. The energetic big was high-fiving the crowd after his makes and Knicks fans were losing their collective mind with every move he made.

The Knicks still have a long way to go before this is the norm at the Garden, but it’s clear fans are just dying for a team they can embrace.

If the Knicks can make a habit of winning in the Garden, no other New York team will come close to the juice they bring this city.

Other Observations

  • Although overshadowed by Portis’ big night, RJ Barrett was phenomenal once again. He recorded the first double-double of his career with 19 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists. The only blemish on Barrett’s night came at the free-throw line where he shot 5-for-11.
  • The Knicks outrebounded the Bulls 63-38 and their dominance on the glass was a catalyst in the win. Boylen said the Bulls “lost the boards big time” and he believes it was a major factor in the final outcome.
  • Frank Ntilikina couldn’t buy a bucket (0-for-6 FG, 0-for-4 3PA), but that doesn’t seem to bother Fizdale much at all. The head coach called Ntilikina “fantastic” and said it doesn’t matter if he’s hitting shots when he’s defending as well as he did.
  • Luke Kornet finished with just two points in his return to MSG. The former Knick signed a two-year deal with the Bulls during the offseason.
NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.