Blown Off their Own Court. Again. Denver 113 NY 99

The Denver Nuggets blew the Knicks off their own Madison Square Garden court on a Saturday matinee game — just as they’ve done time and time again in the recent past. NY couldn’t defend the 3 of Zeke Nnaji, nor the overall play of Nikola Jokic — and were run off the court badly in the 4th quarter — trailing by 30 points at one point before making the final deficit decent with a late surge against Denver’s reserves.

Denver has now won 8 straight against the Knicks over the last 4 years; all easy victories.

This was a Denver team that had lost 7 of 8 coming in, and was 10-11 on the season. They were missing their star shooting guard Jamal Murray, as well as of course star forward Michael Porter Jr (out indefinitely with back issues and surgery due). PJ Dozier was also out.

“We know the three things that we have to take care of is our Defense, our Rebounding, and Low Turnovers,” said coach Tom Thibodeau afterwards. “We had low turnovers but they were costly; we gave up 17 points on 11 turnovers. So you put them in the open court. And we did the same thing (as prior games) — we got into a big hole 1st half, came back, got it down to 6, but we didn’t cover the line; and they hit four 3’s in a row.”

1. Nnagi Buried them Early

Zeke Nnagi — a 6’9 forward and #22 overall pick in the 2020 draft — came into the game having made 12 of 18 3-point attempts. So one might think a Knick defensive strategy would be to keep a guy on him like glue.

The Knicks instead pretty much left him open all night for corner 3’s or straight-away 3’s — and he killed them.

Nnagi was 5-9 from 3 and 7-13 overall for 21 points and was a big reason why Denver got off to an early lead. It was Denver 44 NY 28 midway thru the 2nd before NY cut it to an 11-pt deficit at the half.

2. Jokic Buried them Late

The Knicks kept the rest of the Nuggets in check — but in the 3rd and 4th quarters especially Jokic got going — hitting 3’s, muscling inside for buckets, or spraying the ball around with his heady passes — and Nuggets started raining 3’s from all over on the Knicks — leading to the 30-point 4th quarter lead.

Mitchell Robinson had a hard time guarding Jokic — who schooled him with his moves around the bucket — then would take him outside and pop a 3 on him.

Robinson himself had back-to-back offensive rebounds and put-backs at the start of the 3rd quarter — the second one for an “and-One” and free throw opportunity (which he missed). Those plays pulled NY to within 60-53.

Those would be the only points Robinson would have for the evening. He finished with 22 minutes and a -4.

The Knicks hung with Denver for most of the 3rd — down around 7 to 10 points, until Denver started pulling away at end of the period based on the plays of Jokic. And then Denver ran NY off the court in the 4th — again with Jokic as the central point.

At that point Nerlens Noel was at center, also having a tough time with Jokic. Noel played 19 minutes and had a team-worst -24.

Julius Randle said the Knicks communication and rebounding were the main issues. “Our communication. I think that was the biggest thing,” he said afterwards. “You play a team like today, when there’s so much movement, and cutting. and then there’s Jokic the big fella. You gotta communicate. And I thought our communication wasn’t great today. And then rebounding. You give teams 2 or 3 cracks; it expends so much energy. We have to clean up the rebounding and we’ll get better.”

Regarding communication, Julius said there were a multiple things — including small detailed things “like being at the nil; helping, so the ball doesn’t get downhill into the paint, so we’re putting rotation — little things like that that we can get better at.”

One example fans on twitter posted was this play — where at first it looks like Randle leaves Nnaji wide open at the 3 — but on second look (and pointed out in the comments to the tweet), Rose is calling for help down low and both Randle and Fournier go to help at the same time.

3. Knicks Couldn’t Shoot Straight

Besides the poor defense — or excellent Denver offense orchestrated by coach Brendan Malone —Β  NY couldn’t shoot straight from 3 all evening, and they kept trying.

  • RJ Barrett started the game with some terrific plays and hit a 3 but then as the game progressed he kept missing 3’s. He finished 1-7 from 3, and 4-6 from 2 — for 13 points in 25 minutes and a -17. Afterwards, analyst Wally Szczerbiak noted Robinson’s shots are missing ‘side-to-side’ versus ‘short or long’, and that worried him. As a shooter in the NBA he said he was always told a shooter can adjust short or long, but side-to-side means a problem with the shot itself that needs adjusting.
  • Immanuel Quickley was 1-7 (0-3 from 3) for 3 pts and a -18. His one bucket was a beauty but after that he kept missing.

  • Derrick Rose was 5-10 overall but 1-5 from 3
  • Julius Randle played well overall, and was 9-18 but only 2-7 from 3 — 24 pts, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and -2 — but Nnagi was his man.
  • Alec Burks was 2-6 (2-3 from 3) for 11 pts. They could have used him to shoot more.
  • Evan Fournier was 6-14 (3-8 from 3) for 15 pts.
  • Obi Toppin was 2-8 (1-3 from 3) for 7 pts and a +2.

The Boxscore

https://www.espn.com/nba/boxscore/_/gameId/401360166

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