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Nuggets 113, Knicks 97: “One of those games”

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At least Luca Vildoza will be here soon.

New York Knicks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

I once edited a novel and short story collection by a beautiful man named Vincent Zangrillo. Vinnie wrote a lot about people and places from 1970s-1980s New York City. One of his favorite lines was something he heard in Spanish Harlem back in the day: “Sometimes it just be’s that way, papi.” I love the music of that sentence. I also find the calm acceptance of fate in it appealing. It’s of the same family as “Grant to us the peace to accept that which cannot be changed, the courage to change that which can and the wisdom to know the difference.” Or if you’re into the whole brevity thing, “It is what it is.”

The Knicks got pummeled in Denver last night; the 113-97 scoreline is so flattering it could be a skinny mirror. The Knicks were outclassed. Overrun. Helpless. Hopeless. I’m not sure humanity as a species has evolved to where we even have an adjective for what went down, especially in the first quarter. But how much do we care?

The 1970 Knicks entered the playoffs on a four-game losing streak. The ‘73 Knicks once lost by 33 to a sub-.500 Phoenix team. No Knick team has won in Denver since Gus Johnson nearly spontaneously combusted courtesy of this run-of-the-mill endgame.

The Knicks began their six-game road trip with two wins. If they win just one of their last three games they’ll earn a split. Their magic number to clinch the #4 seed is five. We live in interesting times. Enjoy them.

Have I buttered things up enough yet? Hope so. The warning signs were there from the jump: in the first 30 seconds RJ Barrett committed two fouls, Nerlens Noel picked one up too and Tom Thibodeau got hit with a technical foul, one of four on the evening for New York. The Nuggets opened with a jumbo lineup featuring Paul Millsap as their second-smallest player. Mismatches abounded: Millsap posting Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon on RJ. But the biggest mismatch was one man. This game boiled down to the first quarter, which boiled down to Nikola Jokić.

The likely MVP had as dominant a quarter as you’ll ever see in an NBA game, scoring 24 on 8 of 9 shooting and nearly netting a double-double in the quarter. Mike Breen said Jokić outweighs Noel by 85 pounds, but he was less heft than deft, getting out in transition and blowing by defenders in the halfcourt. What a wonderful player to watch. He may be my favorite non-Knick in the league right now. But my God it was @!#?@!ing frustrating to watch.

And it wasn’t just him. Facundo Campazzo orchestrated with sense and sensuality; we can only hope new signing Luca Vildoza has games like that as a Knick. It’s getting late to hope Kevin Knox/Michael Porter Jr. doesn’t turn out to be a memorable draft bust. To the Knicks’ credit, the move made a lot of sense then (KP was their best player and didn’t want to play center, so why draft a 4 who may have back problems?). To MPJ’s credit, that creep can roll.

The Knicks missed 18 of their first 20 shots and trailed 34-12 after one, their lowest-scoring opening frame all season. Julius Randle didn’t score until three minutes before the half. RJ Barrett didn’t score until late in the third and had a couple of fastbreak boners. Derrick Rose continued his efficient scoring and shooting of late, but that was too little and, even coming late in the first quarter, too late.

The first time these teams met back in New York Denver led by 21 at the half. Same last night. Styles make the fight, they say; when the fight is against a near 300-pound basketball Gandalf, you’re up against it from the get-go. The Nuggets are a title contender with an MVP front-runner. The Knicks are a mid-level hopeful with an MVP honorable mention. Sometimes good teams have awful nights. Sometimes it just be’s that way, papi.

Notes

  • Denver may have come in with a boatload of extra motivation. Jokić was playing against Randle, the East’s reigning player of the month who’s garnered more and more attention for end-of-season honors. MPJ played just 15 minutes in the team’s two games last year and surely wants to stick it to New York for passing on him in the draft. Denver was reportedly steamed about losing to the LeBron-less Lakers in their last game.
  • He’s no Gus Johnson, but check out Mike Breen’s excitement after the second block here by Noel. You know you’re happy with your career choice when you can still get this excited so many years later.
  • Breen after a bad turnover by Payton: “That’s just a terrible pass. A lazy pass that was deflected.” I have never heard the normally agonizingly diplomatic Breen criticize any player as much as he has Payton this year. There was another sequence where Payton seemed to loaf on both ends. I am no Elf hater, but this is not good.

Quoth Rice2012: “So this is going to be one of THOSE games.” These games happen. This was the Knicks’ worst loss since their first game after the All-Star break in Milwaukee. Next game isn’t any easier: tomorrow night the Knicks are in Phoenix. They may not win that one, either. But if they lose by 33 or less, they’ll be in good company.