At the end of their road trip and on the second night of a back-to-back, the Denver Nuggets came out flat once again and even a late push couldn’t secure the victory, as they lost to the New York Knicks 116-110. Kristaps Porzingis had a career high 38 points to go with 7 rebounds, and surprisingly Kyle O’Quinn was a wrecker for Denver’s hopes, putting up 15 points and snagging 12 rebounds and 5 blocks. Nikola Jokic had 28 points and 8 rebounds but just 2 assists tonight, and while all of the guards contributed the team got very little from the 3 and 4 spots in the lineup. Paul Millsap going 2-for-13 before fouling out late negated some of his third quarter defense and his 10 rebounds, but these things tend to happen to Denver when they go East.
The Nuggets started a little slowly, missing their first four shots and getting both a turnover and a pass from Millsap off Jokic's face. A Jokic airball earned Denver a 9-0 deficit and a Michael Malone ship-captain grimace three minutes in. Jokic nailed a three, Porzingis slammed home a dunk and Denver needed a timeout.
Porzingis hit a three from 6 feet behind the arc, but Gary Harris and Millsap both answered with threes of their own to make it 14-9. Porzingis canned another three and Jarrett Jack made an easy bank drive as the Knicks hit everything to go up 22-9.
Good news: We're making some threes.— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 30, 2017
Bad news: They're making more.
Still a lot of game left. pic.twitter.com/XAL4JOC7nw
Mudiay came on for a three pointer and some free throws and Barton brought great aggression and his own buckets to keep Denver within reach, but despite Mudiay's buzzer-beating 3 Denver trailed 35-25 after one.
Mudiay opened the second quarter with another 3 for Denver, but Denver had a couple of shots blocked as Kyle O'Quinn had himself a great stint off the bench for New York with 9 points, 3 blocks and a steal off Jokic to push the lead to 47-30. The Nuggets traded baskets with New York for the next several minutes without making up ground. This was pretty though:
How to execute a proper pump fake ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/wG8jGIjHad— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 31, 2017
Down the stretch though, no one could stop Porzingis as he scored 22 in the first half, made New York's last shot of the half and then blocked Millsap to make it 65-43 at halftime.
Jokic hit a three to begin the second-half scoring, and Jamal Murray hit a three for his first bucket of the game, and Denver picked up its effort from the first half. Millsap had some frustrating moments with not getting calls, but Gary Harris brought a ton of defensive energy. Millsap's three followed by Harris's cut it to a 69-59 deficit on a 13-0 run. It didn't stop there either, with Chandler tipping in a paint rebound, Harris doing everything on both ends, and Denver turning the Knicks over.
The Nuggets went from down 69-46 to just 71-68 with 6 minutes to go in the third, and then Jokic's 3 tied it at 71. Chandler's free throws gave Denver its first lead of the night at 73-71, a 27-2 run. The Knicks finally found their own energy and battled Denver down the final stretch of the quarter, with Millsap getting his fourth foul and the Nuggets tiring a bit as they swapped out to the bench, but after being down 22 at halftime they finished the third down just 3, 84-81.
Denver's bench looked a little shaky to start the 4th, but Barton figured out the scoring just in time. The Knicks kept hammering threes but a Murray three made it 94-91 Knicks. Hardaway Jr. hit a couple of threes of his own to break the century mark for New York, though, and the Nuggets were in danger of fading down the stretch. Plumlee missed a couple of free throws at 100-93 before the starters came back in for Denver to finish the game.
Porzingis and Millsap battled hard while Jokic made a pair of buckets to bring it back to a 4 point deficit, 104-100. Chandler's free throws closed it to two with 3 minutes to go, but Denver just couldn't get over the hump even with Jamal Murray firing away for 20 points in the game. Porzingis got a shooter's bounce, Murray fought for rebounds and made tough shots, but a too-long 3 for Harris that missed and a crucial botched two-on-one fastbreak that Chandler fumbled away in the last minute. Instead of getting within 2 the Nuggets fouled and had to foul, and it became a foul-line carousel from there, with the Knicks coming out ahead 116-110 despite a bank-three from Jokic near the end. Porzingis had a year to stew about Jokic ruining him in New York last year and came out to play. Hats off to him - can’t wait for the rematch in Denver between the two big men.
- These Nuggets are every bit the energy-based team that previous Denver incarnations have been. Nothing happens on this team without that energy, and tonight they didn’t have it. In the first half the Nuggets stood around chucking shots to no effect (32.6% from the field) and would not cut on offense (8 assists against 8 turnovers at halftime). Almost half their first half shots were threes (20-of-43) because they didn’t want to do the work in the paint, and they were out-rebounded 27-20 in the first 24 minutes by the Knicks who were 28th in the league in rebounding coming into the game.
And then in the third quarter the Nuggets hustled and played aggressive defense led by Harris and Millsap, and turned the Knicks over while scoring almost at will. For most of a quarter Denver remembered how it should play and the energy it takes to win with their style, and brought it. I’m not sure if that makes the loss more palatable or more frustrating, but hopefully it’s something Denver can remember in future games, hopefully before they open the juice boxes at halftime.
- This is usually what happens at the end of a road trip in a big city. It’s why getting that Nets victory was so important. Some things are partly schedule losses, and while Denver’s ability to benefit from schedule losses that happen with East Coast teams coming West has been intentionally lessened by the schedulers, there’s really nothing to be done about a trip to Los Angeles or Miami or New York. It’s disappointing but not surprising. The Nuggets have to figure out how to win these games, especially when they go East, because the West playoff situation and tie-breakers are going to be nuts this year. They cannot give away games on the road just because they forgot their games at the hotel room - or the club.
- Millsap needs to control his emotions and find his game. He was 2-for-13 tonight, and was again screaming at officials. I’m not sure if he’s just now figuring out that Denver does not get those whistles and whatever All-Star respect he had with Atlanta will not carry over to the Mile High City, but his frustrations are costing the Nuggets. He’s not locked in on either side of the court, and while he finally had some passing assists tonight the Nuggets are not using him as a finisher or really as a go-to scorer. 7 games into the season neither Millsap nor Jokic look quite right, and neither man is getting what he wants out of the offense. This is a partnership that should make both men better, not worse, and the growing pains are hurting the Nuggets right now, especially with these slow starts to games. Something has to change.