Denver Nuggets 114, New York Knicks 89: Three takeaways
In a matchup billed as the Nuggets’ offense vs. the Knicks’ defense, it was Denver’s defense that prevailed, powering a 114-89 win over New York at Madison Square Garden.
The Nuggets were assertive from tipoff, holding the Knicks scoreless for almost six minutes at the start of the second quarter. That would allow the visitors to pad their lead to 22. It was an advantage they wouldn’t look back on. Denver held the hosts to just 43.2 percent shooting en route to a 25-point lead.
"I challenged our guys at halftime to not have any let ups, not to fall into a false sense of success because we still had a half to play," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "This was a team win, everyone who contributed and got into the game, helped us win this game."
The brilliant run of Nikola Jokić continued as the Nuggets’ all-world center finished the night with 22 points and 10 boards – his 10th straight double-double. New York was led by Julius Randle, who had a game-high 29 points and added 10 boards and five dimes.
The Nuggets have now won a franchise-record six-straight games against the Knicks. The team will now look to wrap up its East Coast trip on a perfect note when it faces the Kevin Durant-led Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday (5:30 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).
Here are the Takeaways:
Joker takes over the Big Apple
We’re running out of superlatives for Jokić and it’s only 10 games into the season. That’s how good he’s been.
Up against one of the better defensive centers in the league in Mitchell Robinson, Jokić would not be denied. The Serbian put up 14 points and seven boards on 5-of-8 shooting in the first half. He would pick up where he left off in the second half. He stunned Robinson with his trademark Sombor Shuffle pull up midway in the third quarter. The Knicks center’s bemused look after the play was a clear nod to how unstoppable the 25-year-old is at the current moment.
Jokić entered Sunday’s contest averaging 24.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 11.0 assists. At the rate he’s going, it is looking more and more likely that he could contend to be the third player to average a triple-double on the season. The others are Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook. Jokić would be the first center to accomplish the feat.
Denver owns the paint, dominates defensively
The Knicks entered Sunday’s game with the NBA’s fifth-ranked defense, but their one weak spot this season has been guarding the paint. Denver took advantage early and often and it opened up the rest of the floor for the team.
The Nuggets owned the post in the first half, leading the points in the paint battle by a sizable 30-16 margin. It also allowed the Nuggets to find opportunities from downtown, converting 15 of 35 on three-pointers.
As aggressive as the Nuggets were in attacking the rim, those efforts were also matched on the other end of the floor. Denver held New York to just 38 points in the first half, the lowest first half total by a team the Nuggets were visiting since 2017, according to ALTITUDE.
"We were communicating and just flying around [on defense]," Gary Harris said of the team's approach. "It's not going to be perfect, but we know we have each other's backs and [we're] just going out there and playing hard."
The Nuggets held the Knicks to 45.5 percent on field goals, including 35.7 percent from downtown through the opening three quarters where their starters were in. They also forced 16 turnovers, which they scored 10 points on.
"I think our defense in the last five games [has improved] and I think we're 4-1 in our last five," Malone said. "I think our defense in the last five [games] has been a lot better than it was in the first five games, [it's] a marked improvement."
"The reality is if we want to be a winning team, a team that can contend for a playoff spot in the deep West, our defense had to improve. It has so far."
Gary Harris continues strong run
If one wanted to gauge Gary Harris’ confidence, all they would have to do is watch the opening two minutes of Sunday’s game. At 10:24 mark of the first quarter, Harris received a pass from Jokić at the top of the key and he cut inside and skied above for a thunderous one-handed slam near Julius Randle. As he landed, he exhaled dramatically as he stared toward Elfrid Payton’s direction. For a player who is typically known for his cool demeanor, the demonstrative actions after the play was symbolic. It’s a celebration of a recent turnaround.
"He's making shots, that's the biggest thing. If you're confident in yourself, then you can drive and make plays for others...He's making shots the past few games so that's the best thing for him," Jokić said.
Harris opened the season averaging 7.7 points on 35.8 percent shooting, including hitting just 12.5 percent from downtown, in Denver’s first six games. The final game of that span, a 124-109 win, saw Harris hit just one of eight shots. That clearly served a jolt for the longest-tenured Nugget. Entering Sunday’s contest, Harris averaged 15.3 points on 60.7 percent shooting. He has also seen his three-point shooting spike up, hitting 46.2 percent.
Harris finished his night at The Garden with 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting and two steals. He’s been an invaluable part of the Nuggets’ recent 3-1 stretch.