The Knicks, at 5-5, are back to .500 after Sunday night’s 25-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, and yes, the .500 thing is how the intro of this recap is being framed because the rest of it will be barfed out and tough to digest.
Following a competitive first quarter, the Knicks forgot that scoring points was a necessary aspect of the sport and soon fell down by 20. Once the bottom fell out, there was no longer a floor for New York to stand on, and the Nuggets, noticing that the home team at MSG was nowhere to be found, threw a party. No one likes to be a party pooper, but there’s a whole lot that needs to be cleaned up after this mess.
As usual, the Knicks were without multiple important players tonight: Frank Ntilikina, Alec Burks, Obi Toppin and Taj Gibson were all unavailable. Not that having those guys would have necessarily made a huge difference, of course. The Nuggets, led by superstar Nikola Jokic, are one of the top teams in the NBA, and they played like it most of the evening.
For roughly half of the first quarter, the Knicks appeared determined to put Friday’s loss in the rear view mirror and get back to their winning ways. Unsurprisingly, the hot start came thanks to none other than Julius Randle, who’s stellar start to the season is something to celebrate, even if New York’s record falters as the year goes along.
And again....Julius off to a great start— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 10, 2021
8 PTS, 3-4 FG pic.twitter.com/6ALCiT3Am0
Midway through the first, the Nuggets shifted into a zone defense, which has become a common theme when teams are playing New York. Perhaps it has something to do with the Knicks being ranked among the three worst three-point shooting teams in the league, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. Hard to know what to believe in the age of the internet, you know? Denver’s zone, combined with well-timed double and even triple teams on Randle, stifled New York’s offense and allowed the Nuggets to start building a lead. By the end of the first, the Nuggets were winning 28-21.
In the second quarter, the Knicks played poorly. Tom Thibodeau started the period with Austin Rivers, Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett, Kexin Knox and Nerlens Noel, which in theory is a pretty cool lineup. In theory. Thibs called a quick timeout after the Nuggets rapidly increased their lead to 12, to no avail. Before long, it was 40-22, and certain bloggers were twisting themselves into a pretzel trying to find bright spots.
Hey, it’s nice to see RJ Barrett step into these open threes with such confidence. Eventually one might go in!
Kevin Knox sure seems focused on trying to take good shots while avoiding bad shots. Sometimes he still gets a little overzealous and puts up a gross garbage shot, but still, he’s trying!
Quickley isn’t playing well at all. But he deserves Elfrid Payton’s minutes because what if he starts suddenly playing amazing?
If Frank Ntilikina was healthy the Knicks would be up 10.
Finally, Thibs brought in the cavalry: his starting frontcourt. And, to be fair, Randle and Mitchell Robinson certainly represented an improvement. In fact, Robinson scored New York’s first field goal of the quarter on a lob, and Randle had a fun dunk.
Nice flop by Millsap here leads to an easy Randle jam. Gotta take the highlights where you can get them right now I guess pic.twitter.com/18laehoTrs— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) January 10, 2021
But even they failed to stop the bleeding. Midway through the second quarter is when it became clear the Knicks were going to be down by about 20 points for the remainder of the game. The second half was nothing but a continuation of Denver’s onslaught from quarters one and two, and the Knicks didn’t do much of anything, besides this:
Mitch really can fly— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 11, 2021
12 minutes left, keep fighting. pic.twitter.com/VaEmzjK1Ly
The closest the Knicks would get was 14, and in the end they lost by 25 to a significantly superior opponent. That is to be expected. We’ll get ‘em next time.
> The Knicks shot 6-21 (28.6%) from deep, compared to 15-35 (42.9%) for the Nuggets. So, yeah.
> Mitchell Robinson quietly had himself a nifty little night. In 34 foul-less minutes, Robinson notched 11 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block. Most importantly, he welcomed his difficult defensive assignment, and really made Jokic work for his 22 points.
Nikola Jokic with the spin move and gets baseline on Robinson but the Knicks center seals him under the basket and forces a travel. pic.twitter.com/hN1qmJRhb0— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) January 10, 2021
> As Joe pointed out, Nerlens Noel was bad. As in, the Knicks were outscored by 21 in his 11 minutes on the court.
> Elf dunked.
Payton just threw down a nice driving dunk and it made me feel nothing pic.twitter.com/yNrV3f6naz— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) January 11, 2021
> Another stinker for RJ Barrett, who finished with 9 points (4-13 shooting, 0-3 from three), 9 rebounds and 4 assists. When both Barrett and Randle are on, the Knicks look like they can compete with anyone. When RJ isn’t providing Randle with offensive assistance, the Knicks usually look like a bottom feeder.
> Randle posted 29 points (11-16 shooting, 2-5 from beyond the arc), plus 10 rebounds and 5 assists. He only had 3 turnovers. It didn’t result in team success tonight, but Randle is having a remarkable year. He needs help, though.
Julius Randle joins Oscar Robertson as the only two players in NBA history to record at least 200 points, 115 rebounds and 70 assists in their team’s first 10 games of a season. @EliasSports— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) January 11, 2021
> Help didn’t come from the bench on Sunday, even though Thibs stretched his rotation because of the blowout and played 12 total guys. The seven Knicks who came off the bench scored a total of 21 points. Overall, besides Randle, no Knick scored even 15 points tonight. Only two others were in double figures (Mitch and Elf).
There will be nights like this, especially when the Knicks play the top tier teams in the league. As normanhathaway aptly put it, tonight was a “sobering reality.”
But that’s okay. We all experience loss. Tonight, the Knicks experienced it in a big way. They have the night to dust themselves off, but New York better get over this loss quickly. The Knicks play the Hornets in Charlotte tomorrow at 7 pm. It’s a great chance to get back on track, and over .500 again.