Denver led 28-7 with 1:23 left in the 1st quarter. That was the kind of blowout from the start this game was.
Three reasons why:
1. Jokic Cements MVP?
Nikola Jokic Dominated from the opening tap — scoring 24 points in the 1st quarter. Nerlens Noel — who played despite a sprained ankle that was supposed to keep him out — could not contain him. Jokic is quick and fast and talented and 70 pounds heavier than Noel (it was pointed out by Mike Breen). Taj Gibson couldn’t guard Jokic later either — Jokic treated them both like rag dolls.
Air Serbia, cleared for takeoff! pic.twitter.com/fV7aDvKl4y
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) May 6, 2021
Jokic finished with 32 pts on 10-16 shooting, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Conversely, in the MVP battle within the game, Julius Randle couldn’t hit his shot — 5-15 (0-5 from 3) shooting for 14 points.
2. Knicks Couldn’t Hit Shots
Meanwhile the Knicks at the start seemed to be playing in a schoolyard with hard rims, where the ball just bounces off — they couldn’t hit a shot. It really wasn’t Denver’s defense that kept the Knicks from scoring — NY just couldn’t shoot. Some of it may have had to do with the thin Denver air — but it just seemed like every Knick shot clanked.
Even RJ Barrett drives seemed to bounce off the rim and out. Barrett picked up 2 quick fouls in the first 21 seconds and that helped to throw the Knicks off as well. “Some tough calls went against us, and we got some calls at the end but by then the game was decided; that’s the way it is on the road and you just have to play through that,” said coach Tom Thibodeau afterwards.
By the end of the evening Barrett was hitting his shot — finishing with 14 points on 4-13 shooting — but importantly 4-8 from 3, 2-2 in free throws.
Alec Burks finished 0-7 for 0 points and was a -20 in 16 minutes.
3. Knicks 3rd Quarter ‘Run’
The only thing you could hope for as a Knicks fan was some sort of run to pull the Knicks to within 15 in the 3rd quarter, as a platform to get it down to single digits by the 4th.
And the Knicks did that — Elfrid Payton led the Knicks on a mini run midway thru the 3rd with consecutive penetrations and floaters to pull them within 16 with 5 minutes left. “Payton providing the impetus now,” said Walt Frazier at the time.
Defense sparking the break once again. pic.twitter.com/VU1By1Ox7P
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 6, 2021
But the Knicks couldn’t cut into it more than that — the Nuggets soon pushed their lead back to 20 and by the 4th were up by 31 at one point.
Immanuel Quickley gave the Knicks some firepower with 18 points on 4-8 shooting (3-5 from 3, 7-9 in free throws).
4. Austin Rivers ‘Revenge Game’
Austin Rivers came off the bench to score 25 points on 7-13 shooting (6-9 from 3). Afterwards, Stefan Bondy of the NY Daily News reported that Austin Rivers did indeed view this as a revenge game, tweeting
“Michael Porter Jr. confirmed this was a revenge game for Austin Rivers: “He’s talked to me extensively how difficult it was for him in New York. So he told me coming into tonight how aggressive he was going to be and he was trying to get those dudes back.”
This was a far cry from the Austin Rivers who waxed so poetically on joining the Knicks, so much so that half of Knicks Twitter said “he’s my point guard” or words to that effect — similar to the way David Fizdale bamboozled so many fans with his eloquent speeches when he took over as coach, that had half of Knicks Twitter saying “he’s my coach”.
Not saying Rivers was insincere with his introductory words — but the NBA is a cruel business and Rivers’ went from possible starting point guard, to backup point guard, to 14th man when Derrick Rose was acquired. This is the business and Rivers’ words didn’t hold up when he became the guy at the end of the bench.
5. Noel Shot Blocking Party
The Knicks did a better job of guarding Jokic as the game progressed — he only had 8 more points after the 24-pt 1st quarter. And Nerlens Noel seemed to shake off any rustiness due to the ankle sprain — by the 2nd half he was putting on a shot blocking party.’ Noel finished with 6 blocks.
N🚫EL (x2) pic.twitter.com/S73CVz9abV
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 6, 2021
6. Porter Jr vs Knox
Denver’s 3rd leading scorer was Michael Porter Jr — who the Knicks famously passed on in the 2017 draft, instead picking Kevin Knox. Porter looked great and scored 17 points on 7-12 shooting. He’s averaging 18.8 ppg this year.
Kevin Knox got 5 minutes in garbage time in the 4th — and played well — he hit a 3 and was a +11.
“We either win or we learn,” said Tom Thibodeau afterwards.