It was closer than the Nuggets would have liked, but Denver is now on a three-game win streak after beating the Knicks 111-105.
"It wasn't pretty by any means, but we'll definitely take the win. Three games in four nights and 3-0 in this homestand, now we get a well-deserved day's rest tomorrow," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said.
Nikola Jokić continued his five-game tear with 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists to lead Denver. Marcus Morris Sr. paced New York with 22 points and five rebounds. In the first half, it appeared as if the Nuggets would ease past their East Coast opponents. Denver got rolling early as it built an 11-point lead on the back of a 14-6 run to end the first quarter. Will Barton III was the catalyst of the Nuggets’ first quarter dominance, dropping nine points on 4-of-6 shooting. The Nuggets would start the second quarter on a 15-6 run to pad their lead to 20 points. Malone’s team would enter halftime with a 16-point advantage. New York fought back early in the second half. The Knicks would cut the deficit to just three in the third quarter thanks to 33-12 run sparked by Morris Sr.’s 16 points in the quarter. New York would take the lead in the fourth quarter after outscoring Denver 9-2 in the opening three minutes. The Knicks had a five-point lead before the Nuggets fought back. The home team would level the score at 98 thanks to a clutch three from Barton III. Then Jokić would take over. The Nuggets’ All-Star big man would score 11 of his 25 points in the final 12 minutes of the game, including hitting a go-ahead three to push the score to 102-100 at the 3:48 mark. The Nuggets are on a 12-game win streak against the Knicks. The team now gets a two-day break before continuing its season-long five-game homestand against the Orlando Magic Wednesday. Here are the takeaways: Thrill-er Barton III’s resurgence is one of the significant reasons why the Nuggets are 17-8 and his effort on both offense and defense helped power the team to its result on Sunday.
"He's been tremendous," Malone said. "He's our second-leading rebounder as our starting small forward. He gets to the cup. He didn't finish as well as we would liked to [tonight], but he gets there. He puts pressure on the defense. His playmaking [and] he plays for his teammates...What's he not doing?" The small forward’s ability to create off the dribble makes him a unique threat for the Nuggets on offense and would finish the game with 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists. As valuable as Barton III was on offense against the Knicks, he was more impressive on the defensive side of the floor. After Morris Sr.’s surge in the third quarter, Barton III was tasked with guarding him and the Knicks forward was held scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting. Strong effort from Plumdog At the start of the fourth quarter, Mason Plumlee made a gutsy play that Nuggets fans have come accustomed to during his four seasons in Denver. The eight-year veteran dived to the ground to grab a loose ball and keep the Nuggets’ offensive possession alive. A split-second later, he found an open Michael Porter Jr. who assisted Grant on a thunderous dunk to push the score to 89-84.
"Yeah I just think sometimes when you get on the floor, people panic a little bit," Plumlee explained to Nuggets.com. "No one really came to me, so I had time to see the floor [and make the play]." Plumlee had a strong all-around effort in the Nuggets’ victory, going for 14 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two blocks on 75 percent shooting. Denver’s backup center opened the game hitting his first six shots and made crucial plays down the stretch. Porter Jr. shines Porter Jr. played through some critical stretches for the Nuggets in the second and fourth quarter Sunday and responded with a solid performance – going for nine points on 4-of-8 shooting with eight rebounds and a block. What really stood out about the Nuggets rookie was his decision making during his 11-minute appearance. Earlier during the season, it appeared as if Porter Jr. was still getting comfortable with the speed of the NBA game – which is understandable considering his almost two years away from the game. After a seven-minute appearance against the Suns on Nov. 24, Malone said Porter Jr. was “pressing” at times. Against the Knicks, the 21-year-old appeared confident and comfortable on both sides of the court.
"The more I'm out there, the more comfortable I am feeling. The more I'm feeling free and playing my game," Porter Jr. explained. Prior to the game, Malone was quizzed about his philosophy about player development considering his success with the Nuggets’ relatively young core. The coach responded, mentioning that playing time is the ultimate tool in tapping into a player’s potential, but that there are challenges in balancing development with team expectations.
"I think the easy answer is allowing young players to play and more importantly, play through their mistakes," Malone said prior to the Knicks game. "Right now, the biggest challenge that we have this year is Michael Porter Jr. He falls into that young guy [category] and he really hasn't played in two years. He needs game minutes and we're trying to get him those as much as possible while understanding on the other side of that coin, the expectations for us are to be a team that competes for the Western Conference Finals."
Malone added, "[It's] very hard to do both, but allowing our young guys to play has been the key to them developing and maturing."
On Sunday, Porter Jr. got some valuable playing time, which will certainly aid his growth as an NBA player.