After a tough road trip the Denver Nuggets are off to a good start on their five game homestand. First they got back to back wins and tonight they welcomed in the hapless New York Knicks. Behind Nikola Jokic the Nuggets got out in front early but the Knicks made a spirited comeback effort in the third quarter to turn it into a nail biter in the fourth. Ultimately the Nuggets lock it down late and get a 111-103 victory.
Early on both teams traded a couple baskets but also missed some opportunities. Had the Nuggets been knocking shots down consistently they’d have broke out to a lead early but instead were neck and neck with New York. Denver wasn’t getting great looks but between Jokic and Will Barton they were getting enough to maintain a small lead at the halfway mark of the first. It could have been bigger but Frank Ntilikina was keeping the Knicks in it single handed. The Nuggets bench came in and kept the heat on pushing the lead to eight with two minutes to go. They closed out the quarter strong and the Nuggets had an eleven point lead after one.
The Nuggets bench, including Michael Porter Jr., kept the pressure on early in the second and the lead continued to grow. The Knicks had no answer for the Nuggets depth, Porter kept scoring and Barton hit Mason Plumlee on a big alley-oop to highlight an 11-4 run. Plumlee in particular was having a good night, he was 6 for 6 with 12 points halfway through the second quarter. The starters came back in and struggled to find their rhythm off the get go but it didn’t matter because the Knicks were ice cold outside of Ntilikina. The Nuggets eventually got it figured out and kept their lead close to twenty with the half winding down. Barton was aggressive to close out the quarter and the Nuggets headed to the locker room up sixteen.
Denver opened up the second half sloppy and cold, they didn’t get a field goal in the first three minutes. The Knicks were able to chip away with the Nuggets not hitting shots and they got within ten points after about four minutes of play in the second half. The Nuggets got just enough shots to keep the lead right around ten but they weren’t attacking and the momentum was shifting to the Knicks side. New York got it to six before Jokic finally hit a three which got a little energy going from the starters to ebb the Knicks run. The starters pushed it back to eleven before the bench came in and let the Knicks storm right back to get within four and force coach Michael Malone to take a timeout. The Nuggets were able to hang on but just barely and led by just three points after three.
Denver continued to be out of rhythm as the fourth started and the Knicks were able to tie the game. Jokic and Porter got a couple of buckets but it wasn’t enough to hold off New York who eventually took the lead. Jokic kept his good play up, he got a bucket off a nice spin move in the lane and then tapped an offensive rebound out to Barton who buried a three to tie the game with six minutes left. The starters kept with New York and continued to be led by Jokic who buried a three with four minutes to go to give the Nuggets a two point lead. The Nuggets defense tightened up with the quarter winding down and that gave them a slim lead going into the final minutes. With ninety seconds to go Murray knocked down a step back three to put the Nuggets up seven which felt like the dagger. The Knicks couldn’t get another bucket when it mattered and the game dwindled down into some late timeouts and ultimately a six point Nuggets victory.
Best matchup: Will Barton vs Marcus Morris Sr
Both Morris and Barton provided scoring punch for their teams. In a lot of ways the two are similar. They both are score first guys who initiate a lot of offense on their own. They also are both enjoying the best seasons of their careers. Neither guy had an especially efficient night from the floor but they were able to will in some big shots when their teams offense was struggling. Morris was another case of a big wing player giving the Nuggets and Barton trouble defensively but Will did his best and also was excellent on the boards to make the most of the matchup.
Main thing I noticed: solid minutes from MPJ
Michael Porter Jr. got two shifts tonight, one at the start of the second quarter and one at the start of the fourth. There were still some hiccups to be sure. Taj Gibson blowing by him in the post on one possession comes to mind in particular, but MPJ was still very solid tonight. He gave the Nuggets energy when the bench looked flat and most of his shots were of the high percentage variety. He ended up with nine points and eight rebounds in just eleven minutes. These are the types of performances Mike needs to build on. If he can continue to take what the defense gives him and grow on the other end he’s going to be a big part of the Nuggets postseason.
Closing thought: got it done
This was not the most pretty effort. Denver showed they were clearly the better team early on and then rested on their laurels in the third quarter. They nearly let this one get away but tightened up late and got it done. Yes, you’d much rather see Denver win this game going away but it will count as a W all the same. That makes it three in a row with two very winnable games left on this homestand. Nuggets need to keep it up to get themselves right back up in the two seed.