The Garden was treated to an incredible shooting display…just from the Knicks’ opponent, the Nuggets, capping three straight New York losses.

The New York Knicks (11-12) fell to the Denver Nuggets (11-11) at home on Saturday, with the ‘Bockers losing their third straight before departing on a three-game road trip. The 113-99 defeat brought New York under .500 for the first time on the season and has them looking from the outside in at the playoff/play-in picture in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks, like most teams, had no answer for Nikola Jokic, the 26-year-old superstar center who can shift a defense out of position with his eyes. Jokic was powerful on the glass and extended his range from downtown. Neither Mitchell Robinson nor Nerlens Noel could stop him, as the 2021 NBA MVP finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists on 14-of-19 shooting. He did not play the fourth quarter.

Nuggets second-year forward Zeke Nnaji had a career game, scoring a single-game-best 21 points on five three-pointers, adding eight boards. Denver altogether dominated from downtown, as the Knicks failed to rotate or provide resistance from outside for the Nuggets. The Mile High City would finish 20-for-43 (46.5%) from three (at one point 19-of-34 before finishing garbage time 1-of-9 from deep).

The first quarter started with the Knicks’ bench cut into an early Nuggets lead. Hot shooting from Denver’s second unit, including a pair of three-balls from Nnaji, kept the Nuggets afloat following solid minutes from New York’s backup backcourt tandem of Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley.

Quickley and Will Barton traded last-minute floaters to keep Denver up five and scoring 30 after one period. After a shaky defensive first quarter, the Knicks had a manageable deficit with bench minutes in stock to make up ground. What followed was a persistent lack of effort, however.

In the second quarter, with RJ Barrett playing with the bench these days as Alec Burks starts, the second unit really struggled. Before Julius Randle and Evan Fournier re-entered the game at 7:47, the bench scored a single point in four minutes, an unacceptable stretch and an anomaly for one of the NBA’s best units. With the starters back in, communication failed to improve, punctuated by Randle doubling in the paint and no one rotating to defend Nnaji, who drained his third first-half triple.

The Knicks’ defense (19th in the league entering today) continues to be a major issue, as two quarters of 30 points each relinquished to the opposition is no recipe for success. Nnaji, averaging 6.8 points per game this season, scored 16 points in the first half—greater than any single Knick.

The third period saw the bottom fall out for the Knicks as Jokic played fantastic ball, gassing Robinson’s attempt to contain the All-Star center. Boos rained down from the matinee Garden crowd as Denver scored 32 points, their third consecutive quarter scoring 30 points or more.

The fourth started with the bench and rookie Quentin Grimes in the game, followed by four consecutive three-pointers on four possessions for the Nuggets, underscoring the Knicks’ desperate need to pantomime any sort of perimeter defense. While Denver had a historic day from three, this was a routine effort for New York—a concerted effort to pack the paint instead of rotating over to the open man on D.

Nikola Jokic vs. the Centers

Last year’s MVP and the best center in the league, Nikola Jokic, is having another outstanding season despite his team’s worse performance. Nikola scored 10 minutes in the first quarter before subbing out. Jokic came back in the second quarter and, after some jostling with Mitchell Robinson, including handsy behavior from both parties, drained his first three of the day over Robinson. Jokic finished the first half with 17 points and three assists.

By the third quarter, Jokic was feeling fiery, orchestrating Denver’s offense and downright destroying Robinson. Before Robinson left the third after eight minutes, Jokic knocked down two more triples and crashed the boards, with nary a Knick able to box out the Serbian. Jokic had 32 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists at the end of the third, not returning to the ballgame, as the game was decided.

Miscellaneous notes

  • Randle finished with 24 points on 18 shots, also dishing out eight assists. Fan ire will be directed at Randle, New York’s lone All-Star, and he had shortcomings on defense, but the Knicks’ defense is a systemic issue right now. Randle shot 50% from the field, only coughed the ball up once, hit all but one of his free throws.
  • Another disappointing RJ Barrett performance, as the third-year swingman scored 13 points on 13 shots. Most notably, the Canadian went just 1-of-7 from three. The only make was his second attempt.
  • Grimes continues to look like a viable option as a reserve. The rookie connected on two of his four three-point attempts, mostly in garbage time.
  • A bad Immanuel Quickley game, and a terrible effort by Nerlens Noel. Again, it’s literally Nikola Jokic, but the Knicks’ idea of doubling him every time led to open shooters for Denver.

Up next: The Knicks hit the road for a three-game trip. It’s not the toughest competition this tough month for them, per se, starting with San Antonio, but two important games against the two teams immediately below New York in the standings, the Pacers and Raptors, stand out as huge games the ‘Bockers need to settle right.

 

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