The Kemba Walker Experiment is off to a soaring start.
After an offensive meltdown without him in the playoffs versus Atlanta, the Kemba-led Knicks offense looked juiced up as The Bronx point guard was sharp in his preseason debut for his hometown team at the Garden.
After receiving a warm ovation Tuesday night, Walker racked up 12 points and four assists in 21 minutes, shooting 5 of 10 from the field as the Knicks routed the Pacers, 125-104, in their first preseason game. Walker was 2-for-5 from 3-point range.
The blowout win, in which they led by as many 27 points, came after a lackluster showing in the annual GM poll conducted by NBA.com that had the Pacers ranked ahead of the Knicks in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks got Walker for a bargain after he was bought out by Oklahoma City after being traded by Boston because of fears of an arthritic left knee. But he looked spry versus the Pacers.
“It’s an opportunity for him,” Tom Thibodeau said of Walker before the game. “He loves playing here, he’s from here so it’s meaningful to him. But he also understands where we are as a team. So it’s not an individual thing, it’s a team thing.”
With Walker’s nine points and two assists in the opening half, the Knicks led 67-55 at intermission. Julius Randle (20 points, nine rebounds) capped the offensive burst with a contested 14-footer at the first-half buzzer.
But many of the highlights belonged to Walker, who hit his first two shots as a Knick.
Walker got to work early in blowing by Malcolm Brogdon for a layup in the first quarter. He followed that with an 8-footer inside the lane and a pull-up jumper from the elbow, finding the creases of the Pacers’ defense.
The 31-year-old former Rice High standout capped his first half with a step-back 3 over Brogdon and was 4 of 7 at halftime.
In his own Knicks debut, Evan Fournier crushed his first shot — a 3-pointer from the right wing. He scored 12 points (3 of 8, 1 of 4 from 3), starting alongside Walker in their newfangled backcourt.
Walker’s best pass of the night didn’t even result in an assist. The speedy former UConn point guard drove the lane and flicked a no-look bounce pass in traffic to Taj Gibson, whose layup was blocked by Domantas Sabonis.
The Knicks scored 36 points in the first quarter, showing there is life in an offense that went dead the last time they graced the court — the first-round playoff defeat against Atlanta.
When asked before the game if he foresaw the Knicks looking as solid as last season’s 41-31 edition, first-year Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said, “Well, they’ve added Kemba Walker and [Evan] Fournier, so it appears they’ve gotten better on paper. I expect — it’s a pretty good infusion of talent, skill, playmaking and scoring. So it makes them tougher.’’
In addition to Walker and Fournier, RJ Barrett added 17 points, the Knicks second-year players, Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin played with gusto — as did rookie center Jericho Sims, who scored on two alley-oops.