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Nuggets 132, Knicks 115: “I stayed up to watch this and didn’t even get drunk. What am I doing with my life?”

Thibs’ incompetence leads to an RJ Barrett injury in the final minute of blowout.

New York Knicks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

After 54 games, we know who the New York Knicks (24-31) are. They can’t do two right things at the same time. Tonight’s game provided yet another verification of this truth. In the first half, they shot 24-for-49 from the field (49%) and 9-for-20 from deep (45%) for 60 points. That’s an excellent showing for our heroes! Too bad they forget how to play defense and surrendered a season-high 83 points in the first half to the Denver Nuggets (30-24).

It was that sort of night. And the awful evening was only compounded when RJ Barrett, still in the game after playing 50 minutes in L.A., 43 in Utah last night, and 35 tonight, twisted his ankle in the final minute of this 132-115 loss. He limped to the locker room. It was inexcusable for RJ to be put in that situation. If the injury is revealed to be significant, Tom Thibodeau should be fired immediately for criminal incompetence.

Before this game began, a blowout was predicted before (never by me, I’m an incorrigible homer). New York played an exhausting game 24 hours earlier in Utah. Mitchell Robinson tied his career-high of 21 rebounds in that contest, so of course his back was too sore to play tonight. Nerlens Noel continues to be the man who never heals. That left New York with Taj Gibson and Jericho Sims to combat the league’s reigning MVP Nikola Jokić.

It wasn’t so ugly at first. Thibs ran out the predictable line-up of Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Taj Gibson. They went shot for shot with Denver through the first quarter, sizzling from downtown with triples by Randle, Fournier, and Gibson.

Jericho Sims checked in at the 4:30 mark in Q1 and proceeded to cash an offensive rebound for a two-handed dunk. When he snatched a second o-board from the air above Nikola Jokić’s head, I saw a time-lapse flash of Jericho’s future NBA career…and it was resplendent. Of course, Joker schooled him on the next two possessions. But, this sure was dreamy:

At the end of Q1, Nuggets held the lead, 40-36. Both teams had been hot from downtown: Denver 5-of-10, Knicks 7-of-13. Denver had beaten the Knicks 7-0 for fast-break points, though, and 20-10 in the paint, and those trends would only continue.

In the second quarter, Obi Toppin was a sparkplug with six quick points. We love the Dayton Flyer for this:

and this:

But, leave it to the Knicks to let the Nuggets run up a 15-point lead while Joker was reclining on the bench. Reserve point guard, Bones Hyland scored 11 points in seven minutes on 3-of-4 shooting. Familiar foe, aka He-Who-Burned-Us-In-December, Zeke Nnaji chipped in nine points. When Thibs called timeout at 7:15 to go in Q2, Denver lead our heroes 59-44. When he called another timeout two minutes later, they were down by 20. The lead would balloon to 27 before intermission.

By halftime, New York was down 83-60. That is the most the Knicks have given up in a half this season. The Knicks’ record for most points surrendered in a half is 84, which dates back to the sixties, so they were just barely saved from the humiliation of that particular record.

I prayed that the power would go out at Ball Arena and the remainder of the game would be canceled. Alas, the Universe hates the Knicks. The teams played on.

The ugliness persisted after intermission. RJ Barrett chipped at the deficit with three Q3 triples, active defense, and crisp passing. But Randle was sticking to his own script, which is to start the game with strength and pace but soon revert to boneheaded plays and arguing calls while the action continues at the other end of the floor. Thankfully, Randle gradually found a third act in which he sank a few shots and gave this extra effort:

Randle’s three-point play plus a Fournier pick-six closed the lead to 15, but then Denver corrected course and zipped ahead again. With under five minutes left in the third quarter, the Knicks down by 25, and Alec Burks trotting the ball across mid-court, I double-checked that Miles McBride was on tonight’s roster. Thibs, I beseech thee: Why does Deuce remain pinned to the pine in a hopeless game when the Knicks are desperate for a point guard? (No answer cometh.)

Denver was still up at the end of Q3, 111-94. By then, Jericho had played nine minutes, Cam Reddish seven, Obi and IQ each six, and Deuce zilch. Remember, the starters had run a marathon the night before against the Jazz. Buzzards are circling Thibodeau Island. Dead fish are starting to rot on the shore.

Whoa1! Guess what? In the fourth quarter, those young players (save Deuce) got to play and cut the lead to 13 points. There were signs of life. But Randle, Fournier, Barrett, and Gibson returned with five-ish minutes left, and the deflation was immediate and total. The deficit reached 19 points with 2:43 left in regulation.

Your final score was 132-115.

Commenting legend Walt Clyde Phraser contributed tonight’s quote, shortly before absconding to a private lair in St. Croix. No doubt the Knicks wish they could do the same. They’ve yet to win on this five-game road trip and have a game against the Warriors on Thursday. At least the Blazers should be pushovers on Saturday. Maybe 1-5 is possible, after all.

Sigh. Safe travels Knickerbockers.

Notes:

  • RJ Barrett looked gassed tonight but gave a valiant effort. He finished with 18 points on 7-of-19 from the floor, 4-of-6 from deep. Prayers the ankle is fine.
  • Julius Randle totaled 28 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and three steals. He shot 11-of-22.
  • Fournier finished with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, 4-of-10 from downtown.
  • In the calendar year of 2022, Immanuel Quickley has been the yin to RJ Barrett’s yang. The opposite, ya dig? Since January 1, IQ had averaged 8.5 ppg and 3.9 apg, shot 34% from the field, 33% from deep, and 86% from the charity stripe. His sophomore slump continued tonight with some particularly painful play. Relax, family, he’ll come around.
  • Nikola Jokić was named to his fourth-straight All-Star team. If the 26-year old plays another decade in the league, how many All-Star selections does he finish with? The big fella leads the league with 14 triple-doubles, and his aren’t the Westbrook variety.
  • The Knicks had lost 13 in a row in Denver before tonight’s tilt. The last time they won in Colorado was November 8, 2006.
  • As Mike Breen observed, this was their third game in four nights. Fair to say expectations were low for a Knicks’ win heading into this affair.
  • There were a LOT of Knicks fans at the game. When Toppin squared up for free throws in the second quarter, the crowd serenaded him with chants of “Obi-Toppin!!”
  • Zeke Nnaji cooked the Knicks for 21 points and eight rebounds off the bench in their first meeting, back in December. Tonight he finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. Way to keep him contained, Bockers.
  • Am I alone in hating Bones Hyland? The rancorous rookie scored 22 points tonight. On one sequence, he pulled this stunt on Kemba Walker, and I wished Charles Oakley was available to break the cocky bastard into a powdery pile of bone shards:
  • With 51 seconds left, down 17, Thibs finally let Deuce touch the hardwood. Is this some antiquated form of rookie hazing?

That’s a wrap from the Binghamton outpost. I wish you all sweet sleep after this nightmare, Knicks nation.