The rookie point guard garnering much of the national attention — the one backed by all of that parental bravado, anyway — was thriving for the other side.
Frank Ntilikina already has developed into something of a closer late in games during the first half of his rookie campaign, however, and he surely got the best of Lonzo Ball in the fourth quarter and overtime on Tuesday, helping push the Knicks to a 113-109 win over the Lakers at the Garden.
Ntilikina, the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, played the entire fourth quarter and overtime and outscored Ball (second overall), 9-2, over that span after the Lakers’ rookie impressively had netted 15 over the first three periods.
“I have the same motivation going (against) every point guard in the league,” Ntilikina said after the game, finishing with 13 points and five assists. “But honestly what I’m focused on is my team and how we can grow up.”
Still only 19 (same as Ball), Ntilikina is growing into an integral player in the Knicks’ 14-13 start and for their future, an intriguing parting gift from since-fired president Phil Jackson.
Asked beforehand if the Knicks were moving any closer to putting Ntilikina in the starting lineup, Jeff Hornacek replied “not at this point,” instead going with Jarret Jack for the 24th consecutive game at point guard.
Still, Ntilikina was on the court for the final 21 minutes Tuesday night, providing length on defense with his 6-5 frame and long arms and several key shots at the offensive end,
“Again, it’s just experience,” Hornacek said afterward. “You get in the league, you start playing, there’s more opportunities. He did a great job early in the season in a bunch of games in the fourth quarter.
“He doesn’t shy away from any of the pressure; he doesn’t mind taking the shot if he has it. He’s got the mentality of a great basketball player…He’s growing every day.”
Ntilikina certainly didn’t shy away from his first home clash with Ball, whose seven straight Laker points midway through the third quarter featured an alley-oop dunk that had his chatty father, LaVar, pumping his fist at Spike Lee along celebrity row.
“I thought it was great,” Ntilikina said of facing Ball. “Playing against him was exciting. He’s a great player. He’s going to be great. He has size, vision, unbelievable vision of the court. I mean, he can make plays. So he’s exciting, as exciting playing against all the point guards, but he’s very good.”
So, too, was Ntilikina, especially late when the outcome was on the line.
“Lonzo got it going by really pushing the ball and we felt Frank is really the same size as Lonzo and kind of takes pride in his defense that he’d have a good chance of maybe slowing him down a little bit and I think that’s what happened,” Hornacek said. “Frank, he has the mentality of a basketball player. That’s why he’s going to be a great player in this league.
“Again, he doesn’t shy from anything. He likes those challenges. He was ready to go. When we were lining up for the (national) anthem, I looked over at Frank and said ‘are you ready to go?’ He said, ‘I’m ready, are you ready coach?’ You could tell he was ready.”