I have a cold, the weather sucks, and the Knicks can’t play defense. Winter is here, folks! New York ended what once looked to be a promising Western Conference road trip with a decided thud, losing to the Denver Nuggets, 127-114. The Nuggets missed 12 free throws, so it could have been worse. The defense is bad, yo.
Knicks defenders couldn’t stay in front of their man, which allowed Denver to forage in the paint at will. As we’ve seen countless times over the years, New York overreacted to dribble-penetration by stumbling toward the interior like a pack of drunks flocking toward the last cab on the street after exiting the bar, leaving at least three Nugs open beyond the three-point line. Denver shot 55.6% from the field as a team. Again, the defense is bad.
- Much is being made in the tabloids of Carmelo Anthony calling this game a “must-win”. Melo says shit like this maybe 8-10 times a season. Certainly it felt like a must-win for the former Nugget, who has yet to win in Denver as a Knick. Melo played like a dude who believed in the whole must-win thing, particularly in the first half. He finished the game with 29 points on an uber-efficient 10-14 shooting and actually played some pretty good defense on Danilo Gallinari. The Knicks got blown out anyway. It happens. If I had a nickel for every time the ‘Bockers lost a game Melo called a must-win, I’d have approximately $2.65. Do the math, folks...that’s a shit-load of nickels.
- Kristaps Porzingis had a weird game. If you take away the five straight-on three-point attempts he missed — his one make from beyond the arc came in the short corner — then he had a fairly decent 7-14 shooting performance. He was coming up short on all of his longer threes, which happens to him sometimes. It’d be nice to get him a few more looks in the corner when he’s coming up short from above the break; he’s shooting 10-19 on corner threes this season.
- Like P&T’er thebasketballgods, we can take solace in the fact that Willy Hernangomez is finest of all Hernangomezes (Hernansgomez?). Big Willy Style was arguably the best player on the court for New York in this game — even in a game where Melo was shooting the lights out — dropping a career-high 15 points to go along with 10 rebounds. His brother Juan only played one minute. Loser!
- Their sister Andrea — also a basketball player, of course — couldn’t have been prouder:
Que gusto da verlos juntos, verdad? pic.twitter.com/Hb7EE7PBF6— Andrea Hernangómez (@h_andreee6500) December 18, 2016
- Willy joined Ken “The Animal” Bannister in the pantheon of Knicks bench legends:
Willy Hernangomez is the first Knicks rookie w/ at least 15 points and 10 boards off the bench since Ken Bannister in 1985— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) December 18, 2016
- Jeff Hornacek, who was as pissed as I’ve seen him on the bench, leaned hard on Willy in this game, playing him 28 minutes — 11 more minutes than Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn combined. It’s hard to argue with that decision — Willy was +7 in those 28 minutes. Noah looked better in the second half, but was generally underwhelming. O’Quinn made perhaps the defining play of his career, when he blocked a layup attempt out of bounds with 2.2 remaining on the shot clock, then immediately allowed his man to waltz past him for an uncontested bucket on the inbound. It was the essence of KOQ — a great defensive effort utterly cancelled out by careless effort, which will show up in the stat sheet as a block and nothing else. Hornacek removed him shortly thereafter and O’Quinn did not see the court again.
- Brandon Jennings has been pretty damn mediocre as a starter. Derrick Rose missed yet another game with back spasms, and Jennings put up some decent numbers (14 points, including 8 free throws, 7 assists, 3 steals) but was generally lackluster. Once again he was backed up by Ron Baker, who is not a point guard. The Knicks need Rose back...like, yesterday.
- Also, they need a friggin’ third-string point guard.
- Justin Holiday (10 points in 20 minutes) was also pretty damn good off the bench. Justin Holiday is pretty damn good just about every night.
- The Nuggets are a talented young bunch. Nikola Jokic likes to throw them ‘bows, though, and the refs were letting him get away with it. That was annoying. Also annoying was Kenneth Faried, the kind of fake-hustle dude who always thrives against the Knicks, prompting MSG announcers and New York fans alike to wonder, “Why isn’t this guy playing more???” He isn’t playing more because he’s not that good. Ask a Nuggets fan.
- Clyde repeatedly called the Nuggets “the Rockets” early in broadcast, then pivoted by asking, “Hey, how about the Rockets?” and talked about them breaking the three-point record the other night. Good save, Clyde. You’re still the best.
And thus the big Western Conference road trip ends, with the Knicks going 2-3. The Suns game was the biggest missed opportunity. The Knicks will return home to prepare for the hated Indiana Pacers. If the Denver game was a must-win, then that will be be a must-must-musssssssssssst win.