The Denver Nuggets came into New York off a blown third quarter and amazing fourth quarter in a defeat of the Chicago Bulls, and they followed a similar script to defeat the Knicks 101-96. Denver had a 19 point lead at one point in the second quarter behind some great offense by Kenneth Faried (14 points for the game, all in the first half) and a balanced all-around attack but wound up trailing entering the fourth after leaving their defense in the locker room at halftime. Emmanuel Mudiay and WIll Barton each scored 9 points in the fourth quarter though and the Nuggets managed to corral the Knicks for just 17 points in the final frame.

Danilo Gallinari and Barton both had 19 points to pace the Nuggets, with Barton adding 11 rebounds while Joffrey Lauvergne had 12 and 10 off the bench in relief of Nikola Jokic, who only had 19 minutes for the game but still logged 13 points and 6 boards. Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony shared the lead with 21 points each for the Knicks after a slow start, and Anthony once again led the team in assists, but New York lost the bench scoring battle 36-23 and with it the game as well.

The Nuggets came out of the gate with much crisper movement than the Knicks, attacking the paint with impunity while the Knicks struggled to get good shots from Porzingis and Melo, who started the game 0-for-10. Denver held a 15-10 lead halfway through the first. Mudiay missed a pair of free throws but Kenneth Faried snatched the rebound and Gallo put the team in the bonus with five minutes to go. Faried had 3 good rebounds to go with 10 points for Denver in the first. Calderon’s 3-pointers kept the lethargic Knicks close as Mudiay went 0-for-5 in the quarter and kept Denver’s FG% down, but Will Barton’s block on an Arron Afflalo layup led to a half-court 3 from Gallo as time expired and the Nuggets jumped out to a 31-20 lead after one.

Porzingis hit a couple of shots to begin the second but netted his second foul with just over 9 minutes left and had to sit again. Barton did his job with 6 points, 3 rebounds and 3 penetrating assists keeping the Nuggets lead at 11, 38-27 with 8 minutes to go in the half. Mudiay and Gallo came back in halfway through the quarter, and Mudiay hit a three and then led a beautiful 2-on-1 break to put the Nuggets up 18 at 51-36. The Knicks got some help by the refs to trim the lead but back-to-back dunks by Barton re-established the Nuggets. Carmelo finally heated up and led a 7-0 run to trim it to 57-45 before Gallo did what he did best and got fouled to put two more in for Denver. The end of the quarter was all New York, though, even after Melo went to bench in foul trouble, and it might have had something to do with Nikola Jokic getting himself into foul trouble as well. The Knicks finished with an 11-3 run and the Nuggets ended the half up by that same 11 points, 60-49. Once Jokic got his third foul and Lauvergne came back in the Nuggets struggled.

It was still a balanced half, though:

The Nuggets opened up the second half shooting poorly but playing hard and maintained a 9-point lead three minutes into the third.The Knicks played better defense and the halfcourt shot remainied Gallo’s only made shot until his 18 footer with just over 6 minutes to go in the quarter to put Denver up 68-59. The Nuggets struggled to finish for the next several minutes though while Porzingis cut Denver up, and Afflalo’s 3 and a turnaround bucket by Porzingis powered a 12-0 New York run that gave the Knicks the lead 69-68. Gallo and Porzingis swapped 3s, but Gallo’s foul shots and a steal that led to a Lauvergne dunk put the Nuggets back on top briefly. Langston Galloway hit a three to finish the quarter with the Knicks up two after three quarters, 79-77. The Nuggets lost the quarter 30-17 in a similar disaster to the 3rd quarter against the Bulls, shooting 6 of 22 from the field – which meant Denver had them right where they wanted them.

Will Barton put the team on his shoulders early in the fourth as he made a pair of buckets and Lauvergne hit a layup as those two put the Nuggets back up 83-81. The rest of the Nuggets bench combined for 5 points for the game, though, and Mike Miller on Carmelo Anthony was an interesting sight. Gallinari and Porzingis both came back in with 7+ minutes to go and the game tied at 86. Denver could not stop the pick and roll in the middle of the quarter and Melo and Lopez punished the Nuggets with it. Mudiay then returned for Randy Foye and decided to win the game, hitting a pull-up two and a step-back 3 to push it to 91-88 in favor of the Nuggets. Mudiay took over the offense in the fourth and his drives in the paint put the Nuggets up 97-90. The Knicks pulled it within 3 at 97-94 with 30 seconds to go but Melo missed the leaning 3 and Barton closed it out with a pair of trips to the line as the Nuggets escaped Madison Square Garden with the win, 101-96.

Final Thoughts:

The kids are all right. This is a game that ends as a loss without Joffrey Lauvergne fighting through foul trouble to get crucial scores and rebounds, and without Emmanuel Mudiay putting on his leadership hat and willing the victory. Mudiay was just 1-of-8 in the first half, including an end-of-half missed 3 at the buzzer, but had 7 assists and no turnovers at that point. He only added two assists in the second half but his 9 fourth quarter points when no one else was getting it done really broke New York’s back. He was driving to the hoop past seven footers and shooting with confidence despite his brutal first half from the field.

Lauvergne played far more than I thought he would, but whether it was foul trouble for Nikola Jokic, a recurrence of his shoulder issue or simply Malone wanting to ride the guy he had on the court it worked out in the end. Lauvergne had the best + / – of the night for the Nuggets and was once again rewarded for his effort in practice.

The vets came to play. Danilo couldn't shoot (4-for-13) but still had 19 points. Barton had 19 and 11 (with all his boards defensive ones that stopped New York scoring opportunities) and Faried's 14 first-half points helped Denver sprint out to that lead in the first place. If they are Denver's three best trade chips then all of them performed admirably and helped their stock. Of course, if they play like that why would we want them traded? This team blows leads like there's a Groupon code for every one lost, but they never fold.

If the youth and thin bench makes consistency hard to find, there's something to be said for Denver's best veterans being able to steady the ship and believe in the rookies enough to give them the space to work even after disasters have occured. The team unity in a losing season is impressive, and a testament to the players and coaches on this team. Watch Gallo and Mudiay after this drive. Those are two players who want to win and believe in each other.

It’s good to see. Happy Super Bowl Sunday, Nuggets fans. One Denver team earned a victory today – one more to go.