The Nuggets played a complete game Sunday evening, dismantling the Knicks early and continuing their road win streak to get to 5-5.
Nikola Jokic had his tenth straight double-double to start the game, finishing with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in 30 minutes. Everybody on the team got involved tonight, but the second unit was outstanding, helping stretch an early lead into double digits and helping keep the team’s foot on the gas the entire game.
Julius Randle started the game off with a basket in isolation against Paul Millsap, elevating over his older counterpart Paul Millsap. Nikola Jokic answered with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, doing his part to stretch his defender Mitchell Robinson away from the rim. Gary Harris had an athletic dunk in transition, and Millsap was able to knock in a 3-pointer of his own as both teams traded baskets to keep the score even. The Nuggets were down 13-10 at the first media timeout, and came back to Will Barton splitting a pair of free throws.
Millsap took advantage of a switch against Reggie Bullock, using that old man strength to bury his defender under the rim and score. The Nuggets deployed a 2-3 zone after the timeout, daring the Knicks to beat them with jumpers, and were able to get a couple stops. Murray finally took a catch and shoot 3-pointer, after being hesitant to pull the trigger on those shots the last few games, and got the satisfaction of seeing the ball go through the net to give Denver a three point lead.
The second unit began to make their way onto the court, but that didn’t stop the Nuggets defense from getting another stop and creating a transition basket for Gary Harris. Denver stretched a good string of possessions into a 13-2 run before RJ Barrett was able to convert a mid-range jumper. The Nuggets got a few gifts from the Knicks on an offensive possession, with Elfrid Payton stepping out of bounds after a steal and their failure to corral a rebound, and it produced a basket and trip to the free throw line for Jokic. Denver was able to take a 28-21 lead after the first frame, playing a good defense for the first 12 minutes of the contest.
The second unit started the next quarter off well, flying around on defense to get stops while Facu Campazzo helped orchestra some baskets on offense. The reserves were able to rip off a 12-1 run, opening up an 18-point lead. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau brought back Julius Randle early, trying to find someone to stop the run, but Kevin Knox couldn’t connect with him on a pass in transition for a turnover. Bullock found Robinson for an alley-oop for their first field goal of the quarter, but Campazzo answered with a 3-pointer from the left wing.
The starters began making their way back on the court at about the 6 minute mark, with the second unit having stretched an 8-point lead up to 17. The Knicks offense was able to convert more shots into makes, with the increase in talent that was on the floor, but the Nuggets offense continued to produce and maintain their lead. Millsap had a nice steal in the post, kicking the ball out to Barton and Murray for an easy transition bucket to hit the 50 point mark for the game. The starters ran a nice play to get Millsap a corner 3-pointer, on a set that was created by a really good cut by Gary Harris. The Nuggets were able to claim a 21 point lead, 59-38, going into the locker room for halftime, and had to be feeling good after one of their best halves of the season.
The Nuggets offense was a bit clunky to start the second half, missing baskets and turning the ball over more than Coach Malone would like. As bad as the Nuggets looked, the Knicks were worse, just doing damage to the rim. Gary Harris was able to make another 3-pointer, a good sign from the road trip so far. Randle bullied his way into another layup, and Reggie Bullock knocked home his first 3-pointer, prompting a timeout from Nuggets coach Michael Malone to talk strategy. Jokic made an absurd Sombor Shuffle, saving a pretty disappointing offensive possession after the break. The All-Star center followed up his ridiculous shot with a nice drive and dunk on Robinson and Randle, fully in his bag in the Big Apple.
Jokic and Monte Morris were able to pair up for a 3-pointer from the guard, pushing the Nuggets lead to 22 points, but Austin Rivers was able to fling in an answer from behind the 3-point line on the next possession. The Nuggets continued to do a good job rebounding the ball on defense throughout the quarter, limiting the Knicks second-chance points and helping keep them from putting points on the scoreboard. Murray couldn’t get a good look at the end of the quarter against Robinson, but the Nuggets still had an 82-64 after three quarters.
Nikola is unfair. pic.twitter.com/bDVHiPnltp
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 11, 2021
Don’t underestimate the value of a good pump-fake! pic.twitter.com/vtXOlWZ0rI
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 11, 2021
The Knicks were able to successfully challenge a Hartenstein basket, but the Nuggets got a defensive stop and then JaMychal Green hit a 3-pointer on the other end. The Knicks were able to start getting a couple buckets, and Malone called timeout to help bolster his second unit to help keep the lead in double digits. Green was able to get a 3-pointer afterwards, always nice to see an immediate return on an investment. Dozier was able to drive and get a layup on the next possession, finishing strong through traffic. Isaiah Hartenstein continued to be active, hustling and scrapping for rebounds and points in the paint.
A 3-pointer from Dozier ballooned the lead to 25 points, as the Nuggets defense continued to get stops against the Knicks. Randle took a seat with about 7 minutes remaining, unable to help close the gap in his fourth quarter minutes. Dozier hit a second 3-pointer, getting the Nuggets over the 100 point mark with about four minutes remaining in the quarter.
The Nuggets third-string players got some minutes to close out the game, with Bol Bol, Markus Howard, and RJ Hampton getting to close the final four minutes of the game with Zeke Nnaji and Vlatko Cancar. Bol had a scary block, just rising up so high to reject a shot. Hampton had a nice drive and finish in the paint for his first points in Madison Square Garden, and Bol hit a long 3-pointer as well to pick up a field goal.
Three Things I Noticed
Defensive rebounding. The Nuggets did such a great job finishing defensive possessions by securing the missed shot throughout the game. The Knicks put out an athletic, tall lineup most of the time, and it didn’t make a difference tonight. With the Nuggets putting a close to possessions, they were able to get out into transition for easy buckets as well. A great performance in this category tonight.
The Nuggets offense needs Gary Harris to play like this more often. Harris only had 14 points, but shot 50-percent on his four 3-point attempts, got some transition looks, and was active cutting into the paint on offense. Harris is always going to get minutes because of his defense, but the team’s offense jumps to another level when Harris’ shot is falling. As the longest tenured Nugget, it’s nice to see Harris play like we’re used to seeing after a slow start to the season.
Jamal needs to be hungry for some 3-pointers. Murray went 1-4 on his 3-point attempts tonight, and finished with 9 points. He would have certainly been able to get some more points if the game had been closer late, but for a player that is competing for an All-Star spot, you’d like to see him be more eager to take wide open catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. There were plenty of moments in the first half where Murray would catch the ball on a kickout, hesitate, then dribble past the 3-point line and pass the ball to a teammate. Against the Knicks, it’s not a big deal. Against better teams, he needs to shoot those. Call your own number every now and then!
The Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday at 5:30 PM MT.