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New York native Alvarado puts on show vs Knicks at MSG

Alder Almo - Philstar.com
New York native Alvarado puts on show vs Knicks at MSG
Jose Alvarado #15 of the Birmingham Squadron drives against the Capital City Go-Go during the NBA G League Winter Showcase at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on December 19, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Joe Buglewicz / Getty Images North America / Getty Images via AFP

NEW YORK — Jose Alvarado circled this particular Thursday (Friday Manila time) on his calendar. 

An undrafted rookie guard who earned a two-way contract, Alvarado lived his dream when he sparked the New Orleans Pelicans’ 102-91 upset of the New York Knicks, his hometown team. 

“Oh man, I don’t know how to say it,” said Alvarado grasping for words how to describe his career night at the hallowed grounds of the Madison Square Garden. 

Alvarado put up multiple career-highs – in points (14), steals (four) and minutes (20) – and four assists in front of his family and friends. 

“Just seeing my parents with my jersey and all the folks that came out to see me means a lot. If you had told me five years ago that I would experience something like this, I wouldn’t believe you. It’s a dream come true. It’s crazy. I’m at the Garden, I won and doing an interview, and my people are up there,” Alvarado said. “You can’t make that up.”

Five years ago, the Williamsburg native wrapped up a stellar high school career at Christ King Regional High School in Queens that included CHSAA Player of the Year honors. 

After taking his talents to Georgia Tech, comparisons to legendary New York-bred point guards Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury, who played for the same program, quickly came his way. 

Alvarado separated himself by focusing on defense. 

He capped his four-year college career with the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and made it to the ACC All-Second Team while leading Georgia Tech to the conference title and the NCAA tournament. But despite his accomplishments, the undersized point guard went undrafted in last year’s draft. 

The Pelicans took a flier on Alvarado. But he wasn’t in the rotation until January after backup guard Kira Lewis went down with a season-ending ACL injury in December. 

All he needed was an opportunity. The pint-sized, 6-foot guard made the most out of it, and his minutes steadily climbed. 

Before the Pelicans embarked on this three-game Atlantic road trip that began over the weekend in Brooklyn, Alvarado asked his teammates if they had spare tickets in their group chat. 

Veterans Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram covered the cost of tickets for Alvarado’s family in both New York games. Hart later said he just paid it forward, remembering when Luol Deng did the same to him when he was a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers. Ingram also gave his game-worn jersey to Alvarado’s brother after the game. More than 50 in Alvarado’s circle showed up in the Garden, forming a cheering gallery for him and the Pelicans. 

“For [Josh] and B.I. (Ingram) to do that, I appreciate that. They are my brothers,” Alvarado said. “One day, hopefully, I can be in the same position to do that for others.”

That one day would come soon if he continues to play like he did Thursday. 

Determined to end the three-game swing on a high note after two tough losses in Brooklyn and Boston, Alvarado put on a show in front of his family and friends. He made his presence felt early, and it wasn’t the last. 

Less than 20 seconds after entering the game, Alvarado scored on a reverse layup that extended the Pelicans’ lead to six, 16-10. Two minutes later, he added another layup, outracing Knicks’ All-Star forward Julius Randle to pick up the loose ball. 

Alvarado had four points, two assists, and one steal in just four minutes off the bench in the opening quarter, where the Pelicans led by 10 and never looked back. 

“Jose was fantastic. The moment he entered the game, he changed it,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said. “His effort, physicality, picking up [defense] full-court, his energy, and then that led to his ability to spark his own offense. The basketball finds energy, and Jose came in and gave us a huge lift off the bench tonight.”

Alvarado answered every Knicks’ rally in the fourth quarter. He hit a three-pointer and a pullup jumper when the Knicks’ second unit cut their lead to a once-imposing 24-point lead to 10 in the final three minutes. 

“It was amazing. [Jose] gave us a great spark,” Hart said. “Usually, he does it defensively. But today, he did it defensively and offensively. He knocked down shots, some big shots. It was just great to see, especially when you come back to the crib.”

Hart and Ingram kept Alvarado’s emotions in check during his Garden homecoming, his first time as an NBA player after playing twice here in college with the last game without a crowd. 

They told him to stay aggressive and do what he does best.  

Alvarado did just like that -- a pest on defense and a mothball of energy on offense.  

“[Jose] is just a great dude. He’s full of joy, full of love. And I think that’s the biggest thing,” Hart said. 

“It was crazy like when we had a shootaround, I was like, ‘Wow! Like hey, I’m at Madison Square Garden and was brought to play.’ It was just a great feeling, and when I’ve seen the fans start coming and people that I know, I feel like it’s one of those nights,” Alvarado said. 

Indeed, it was an unforgettable night for Alvarado. And a forgettable one for the home team, which got lustily booed several times again by their own fans. 

The Knicks dropped their third straight game at home and two games below .500 at 22-24. 

“For sure, it was really six on five out there, honestly, just because [Knicks] are frustrated. They were missing shots. The crowd was frustrated. So, the crowd was booing them and doing all that. It gives us fuel. That was more encouraging for us, obviously,” Hart said. “The fans weren’t on our side, but they weren’t on their side either.”

Except for Alvarado’s family and friends, who gave a semblance of a home crowd for the visiting team. 

“Teams get up to play in the Garden. This is a great place to be—even people like Jose Alvarado – hometown kid that just got to the NBA. People have a lot of pride. They want to succeed here on the biggest stage. We just gotta know that and hit people first than just trying to play behind,” Knicks’ RJ Barrett said. 

Alvarado joined the likes of Cole Anthony, another New York-bred point guard, Ricky Rubio, and a long list of visiting players who lit up the Garden with a career game and walked away victorious. 

The Pelicans rebounded from two consecutive losses to improve to 17-28. They have been a .500 team since a horrible 1-12 start. 

Jonas Valanciunas (18 points and 10 rebounds), Hart, and Ingram, who combined for 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, have steadied the ship for the Pelicans, who are still without Zion Williamson (fractured foot). 

The injury kept piling up on the Pelicans. Alvarado found an opportunity to squeeze his way into the rotation.And he has no plans of stopping even after a storybook ending to this road trip that began with a then previous career-high seven points at Barclays Center, less than 10 minutes away from his Williamsburg home. 

“It was a career night for me, right? You can’t make that up. It’s just a story that continues writing its own script. I’m just happy that I get to do it.”

**
Alder Almo is a former senior sportswriter for Philstar.com and NBA.com Philippines. He is now based in Jersey City, New Jersey, and writes for the New York-based sports website empiresportsmedia.com. 

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