The Kemba Walker Experiment is off to a soaring start.
After an offensive meltdown without him in last season’s 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.
“Not saying I don’t get nervous but not tonight,” said Walker, wearing a red Yankees cap in his postgame press conference. “I felt comfortable actually. … It’s going to be a fun season.’’
The blowout win, in which the Knicks led by as many 27 points, came after a lackluster showing in the annual general managers 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 from Boston because of fears of an arthritic left knee. But he looked spry versus the Pacers and didn’t have a turnover. In fact, the Knicks had just three turnovers.
“Just coming in, setting the tone, making the right plays,’’ Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of Walker’s first performance. “The game tells you what to do and I think he reads the game extremely well. That veteran leadership, that shot-making ability, very good in the pick-and-roll, it puts a lot of pressure on you. And he’s unselfish. He gets blitzes, he’s gonna get off the ball. I thought he made the pass out of the blitz pretty effectively.’’
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.
“They played great,’’ RJ Barrett, who scored 17 points, said of the new backcourt. “They’re amazing. The way they were moving the ball, we have a lot of weapons.”
Walker said his favorite play of the night came on feeding Brooklynite Taj Gibson for a basket on a fast break after which they hugged. He said the moment was special because they go way back to youth basketball in the city.
Walker’s best pass of the night — also to Gibson — 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 Gibson, whose layup was blocked by Domantas Sabonis.
But everything felt right to Walker.
“It was an unreal feeling,’’ Walker said. “When I first arrived, it was like, wow, I’m really back home. And today it came full circle from where everything started. It’s a real feeling, a great feeling.’’
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 whether 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.’’