MEMPHIS -- To some degree, Saturday night was supposed to be about Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher.
Barnes, as you probably know, had plenty to say about Fisher in the days leading up to Saturday’s game. But he barely looked in the coach’s direction during the Grizzlies’ 103-95 win over the Knicks.
“I don’t care about talking about (Fisher),” Barnes said afterward. “Let’s talk about the game.”
OK. So let’s talk about the game.
With the loss, the Knicks fell to 0-4 without Carmelo Anthony and 20-22 on the season. They hope to get Anthony back for Monday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers. If not, it will be up to Kristaps Porzingis, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams and others to fill the void.
“It’s different without (Carmelo),” Porzingis said. “But we can’t be waiting for him to come back.”
Porzingis, as he’s done in so many other instances, says the right thing here.
Not having Anthony on the floor shouldn’t be an excuse for Porzingis or the Knicks.
Porzingis did his best to fill the void early on against Memphis. He hit four of his first five shots, scoring 10 points in the first quarter.
But Memphis shifted its focus after the opening quarter. Grizzlies coaches asked Zach Randolph to stick closely to Porzingis and impede his ability to catch the ball in comfortable spots on the court.
“At the beginning, I was doing whatever I wanted,” Porzingis said. After the first quarter, though, the rookie then noticed that “Randolph was all over me, not really worrying about anything else -- just really sticking to me.”
It’s difficult to quantify just how close Randolph and other Grizzlies defenders were to Porzingis after the first quarter.
But it’s worth noting that in the first quarter, defenders were within 3.5 feet of Porzingis on just two of his five shots, per NBA.com. With Randolph defending him in the second quarter, Porzingis attempted just one shot in seven minutes.
In the second half, four of Porzingis’ six attempts were taken with defenders further than 3.5 feet away from him. He was limited to just one shot in five minutes in the fourth quarter, which began with a 21-6 game-defining run by Memphis.
After the loss, Porzinigis was reflective. The rookie viewed Memphis’ defensive approach as another lesson learned in his first season in the NBA.
“I’m going to have to find a way to score in those situations,” Porzingis said. “That’s the learning process. I’m not going to come in the league and know how to do that with a lot of pressure on me.
“As I grow as a player, I need to be able to find those positions where I can get the ball and make sure now I can attack... I got to learn from Carmelo, the way he does it. He always gets the ball whenever we need him to get the ball. Those are the things I need to learn.”
In many ways, Porzingis has proved to be a quick study in his first season in the NBA.
After his first preseason game, he said he needed to rebound the ball more. He’s now second in the NBA in rebounding among rookies. After getting into foul trouble early in the season, Porzingis has mostly avoided committing wasteful fouls.
Saturday night presented another challenge: how to survive as the No. 1 scoring option for an NBA team.
Of course, that’s a role that Porzingis probably won’t need to play for a while.
Anthony is the Knicks’ No. 1 option and figures to occupy that perch for the foreseeable future.
But there may come a time when Porzingis is the top offensive option for the Knicks.
So there is some value in the rookie experiencing life on the court without Anthony, as he did on Saturday.
And that, really, is the most important aspect of the Knicks’ trip to Memphis. It has nothing to do with Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher and everything to do with the continuing education of Kristaps Porzingis.