After Friday night’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, snapping a three-game winning streak, the New York Knicks (5-5) were looking to get back on track. Achieving that goal against a team that reached last year’s Western Conference finals turned out to be a bit too large of a task. The Denver Nuggets (5-5) took advantage of another poor shooting performance by the Knicks in a dominating 114-89 win at Madison Square Garden.
Denver is not known for their defensive prowess. They entered the night ranked just 23rd in the league in points allowed per game. Whether in man to man or the occasional zone, the Nuggets looked like a defensive juggernaut, baffling the Knicks offense throughout the contest.
Meanwhile, Denver shot 56% from the field in the first half. They connected on 42% of their attempts from three-point range. The Nuggets led 28-21 after a quarter and quickly extended the lead to 20 when their second unit went on a 12-1 run early in the second. Denver led by as much as 22 in the frame and took a 59-38 lead at the half.
“I know how tough of a team they (Denver) are. They are a great offensive team,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I felt we got in a whole early. When you give a team like that confidence it is very hard to come back.”
Julius Randle attempted to singlehandedly keep the Knicks in the game. Randle scored 16 of New York’s 38 first half points. No other Knick scored over five points in the first two quarters.
It has been well documented that for the Knicks to compete they need to play with a high level of effort and intensity. Simply put, they need to outwork the other team. For the second game in a row, New York seemed out of sync offensively and a step slow on defense.
As a result of the inspirational play of Elfrid Payton, New York was able to pull within 14 in the third. Payton, as he does best, started getting into the lane for easy buckets to give the Knicks a lift. However, Denver responded with a 7-0 run fueled by a three-pointer by Monte Morris and a drive and dunk by Nikola Jokic to extend the lead back to 21. The Knicks outscored Denver 26-23 in the quarter, but Denver took an 82-64 lead into the final stanza.
A JaMychal Green trey early in the fourth gave the Nuggets a 23-point lead, their biggest of the game. A three-pointer from Austin Rivers cut the margin to 15, forcing a Nugget’s timeout. Denver again had the answer as they built the lead to 25 with 7:25 to go and Thibodeau waved the white flag of surrender.
The Nuggets’ balanced attack was led by a double-double from Jokic with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Gary Harris added 14 points. Morris and PJ Dozier contributed 12 points each off the bench. Green and Paul Millsap also also reached double-digits with 10 points apiece.
Randle was the lone bright spot for New York. Randle scored 29 points to go along with 10 boards. With another solid effort, Randle became the only player other than Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson to have at least 200 points, 115 rebounds and 70 assists in his team’s first 10 games of a season.
Payton with 12 points and Mitchell Robinson with 11 were the only other Knicks in double-figures.
Once again scoring was the achilles heal of the Knicks. They connected on just 32 of 74 shots from the field for 43.2%. New York made only 6 of 21 from behind the arc for 28.6%.
On the other hand, Denver shot 53.6% from the field, including 42.9% from three-point range.
“We didn’t play well overall,” Thibodeau said. “Some nights you’re going to shoot it better than others. When you don’t defend and you don’t shoot well there’s virtually no chance to win. So we have to count on our intensity, our defense. There’s nothing we’re doing well right now but that doesn’t mean we can’t change it.”
Next up for the Knicks is a trip to Charlotte and a date with Hornets tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The Knicks return home Wednesday to meet the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden.
(Elsa/Pool Photo via AP)