Nikola Jokic had one of the most dominant stretches of this season to start the game, finishing the first quarter with 24 points and 6 rebounds on his way to a 32 point, 12 rebound, six assist performance for the game. Austin Rivers stepped up in a big way against one of his former teams, scoring 25 points off the bench to help seal the win.
The Knicks starters struggled to put the ball through the hoop, with Most Improved Player candidate Julius Randle struggling to 14 points, finishing with six turnovers, three personal fouls, and a technical foul too boot.
The story of the first minutes of the game was the New York Knicks and their quest to pick up all the personal fouls. The Knicks had three personal fouls and a technical foul, called against their coach Tom Thibodeau, all within the first 30 seconds. Paul Millsap got the game’s first basket, with a baseline push shot, and Elfrid Payton scored first for the Knicks. Jokic got a dunk off a defensive breakdown by the Knicks, and picked up a second one off another defensive lapse, going strong to the rim with two hands. The MVP continued to play well after a timeout, tapping in a missed 3-pointer from Facu Campazzo and then picking up another dunk off a set play to reach 11 points fast. MPJ hit his first field goal of the game, curling around a Jokic screen to the nail. Jokic got back to the free throw line for a couple more points, and then Millsap was able to get his second field goal of the game off a layup.
The Knicks continued to shoot poorly from the field, missing shot after shot, and Jokic continued to dominate as the Nuggets ran out to a 24-6 lead after the first eight minutes. Jokic poked the ball free from Julius Randle, Austin Rivers gathered the loose ball, and he gave it up to Michael Porter Jr. on the fastbreak to put the Nuggets up by 20 points. Julius Randle absolutely beasted JaMychal Green, bodying him across the halfcourt line to force a violation, all without committing a foul. Green missed an offensive putback dunk following an Austin Rivers miss, but the Knicks continued to go without a field goal as the Nuggets defense held strong. Jokic picked up his fourth dunk, a career high for a game, bodying through Taj Gibson to throw it down again. Jokic finished with 24 points in the first quarter, helping power Denver to a 34-12 lead — yeah, he outscored the Knicks by double on his own.
Jokic gave the Knicks a break by taking a seat to start the second quarter, with Campazzo getting the scoring started with a nifty layup while drawing the foul, and made his freebie too. Rivers kicked in a 3-pointer from the wing, putting Denver up by 26. The Knicks were able to find some success attacking the rim, using their size advantage at guard to beat the shot-blocking threat that JaVale McGee brought to the court. Rivers hit another 3-pointer, taking advantage of the Knicks trying to double-team Green and the Nuggets forward having the vision to see him across the court.
Millsap came back on the court after a Nuggets timeout, and helped put some points on the board with a tough transition bucket off a Jokic pass. Rivers got the Nuggets to double up the Knicks with a steal and finish, 56-28. The referees missed a goaltending call against Nerlens Noel, and Julius Randle helped power a small 7-0 run that caused Malone to call timeout again. Campazzo was able to get a wild corner 3-pointer to fall to end a scoring drought for the Nuggets, but the Knicks defense tightened up and helped cut the Nuggets lead back down under 20 points. Campazzo hit another 3-pointer after a Knicks turnover to boost the lead back up to 24 points, but Reggie Bullock hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to bring the score to 64-43 at the half.
Neither team started the second half well, missing shots and turning the ball over. Aaron Gordon had a terrible pass, trying to send an outlet pass full court and easily getting picked off. The Nuggets finally ran a play that got MPJ open for a balanced 3-pointer, and he helped get Denver on the scoreboard for the half. Jokic caught Nerlens Noel with an accidental knee to the berry farm, but was able to get the basket without having the officials call a foul on the play. The two squads continued to battle it out on both ends, before the Knicks were able to get out on a 10-0 run capped by back-to-back 3-pointers from R.J. Barrett. Austin Rivers was the recipient of a magnificent pass from Jokic, hitting a 3-pointer after Jokic nearly lost the ball trying to dribble against Taj Gibson.
The Nuggets guards went full on hunter mode towards the end of the quarter, flying all over the court to hound the Knicks guards. Campazzo had a steal on a drop down, swiping the ball off a pass. Shaquille Harrison used his quick hands to pick a couple pockets, including a steal on Quickley that was called a foul. Randle was called for a technical foul, complaining about something, but was able to get to the free throw line on the next possession. Campazzo was successful on a layup down the left side of the key, beating Nerlens Noel to the rim, before just missing a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
R.J. Barrett was whistled for a technical foul during the break, with the Knicks somehow managing to commit more fouls even when the game isn’t even being played. Rivers was the primary scoring threat for the Nuggets to start the fourth, getting a heat check 3-pointer to fall with a defender in his face. Harrison was able to get to the free throw line for a pair, but JaMychal Green threw away a rebound to Quickley, who hit a 3-pointer off the freebie. Campazzo beat the Knicks defense to the rim for a layup off a pick and roll with McGee, finishing with a sick lefty layup. Green missed another 3-pointer, but it was such a bad miss that Campazzo was able to get the ricochet rebound, throwing it off Nerlens Noel to secure the missed shot for Denver.
Rivers created a bit more offense for the Nuggets, making a 3-pointer and then getting to the free throw line for a pair. MPJ hit a 3-pointer too, and Harrison got a shot near the rim to fall, but the Knicks traded those baskets with 3-pointers to keep the Nuggets lead from ballooning up to 30 points. Once the clock hit the 5 minute mark, Coach Malone brought on Vlatko Cancar and Bol Bol, deciding that the lead was large enough to merit bringing in the end of bench players. The Nuggets were able to successfully run out the clock during “recycling time” (shout-out Ball Corp.) and they picked up their 44th win of the season.
Three Things I Saw
The Nuggets defense made life difficult for the Knicks. The Knicks made a statement early that they were going to play physical tonight. The Nuggets responded well, bodying them on both ends and rebounding the basketball well. With Paul Millsap in the starting lineup, they had a lot of muscle to take advantage of, and they used it to decidedly win the rebounding battle.
The Nuggets need offense. Tonight it was Austin Rivers who got hot and helped the Nuggets put up points. They’re not getting it consistently from anyone outside of MPJ and Jokic right now, so they’ll welcome it from Rivers. It’s not ideal for the Nuggets to see guys like JaMychal Green struggle to score, or for Aaron Gordon to finish 0-6 from the field. They need those guys to get baskets, and were fortunate to find enough offense to convincingly win this game.
Jokic was on another level. The Nuggets star helped the team set a tone early in the game, powering through the defense for two-handed dunks. Jokic did it all tonight, and dominated the game so thoroughly to start the game that this thing was over after the first 12 minutes. If he’s not the MVP, I don’t know what I’m watching. The Nuggets basically tied every quarter following the first, which was plenty enough to secure a win.