The Knicks rallied from 13 points down in the third quarter and defeated the Denver Nuggets, 116=110 in a Saturday matinee at MSG. What a damn win against the top team in the Western Conference!
From the opening tip, Jalen Brunson (24 points, five assists) reminded us what we were missing. The sharp footwork and side-to-side seismic shifts in balance scoring in the post. He started off the game scoring 13 points, looking healthy as ever. He would finish the first quarter with 15 points on 6-8 shooting and finish the game with two clutch free throws. Brunson’s stability and efficiency have been sorely missed these last few games since going out with an injury in the Sacramento Kings game. Of non-big men Knicks this season, he and Josh Hart have been the most efficient scorers. Brunson is hitting 48.7% from the field and 41.4% from three.
If there’s been any silver lining to the injuries the Knicks have faced to their starting lineup, it’s the improved confidence and ability of guys like Isaiah Hartenstein (six points, nine rebounds, two steals) and Immanuel Quickley (10 points, three assists). Both are playing with supreme confidence right now. In addition, Hartenstein played great defense on two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (24 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists), corralling rebounds and battling for offensive positioning.
The first half wasn't mostly the Knicks' way until the Nuggets began to get out in transition toward the end of the half. They began to dominate the boards and employ their dangerous passing from their starring center. The Knicks, a top-three bottom-of-the-barrel team in pace, tried their best to slow the game down, with Julius Randle pounding the ball into the floor in isolation sets. He would finish with 20 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
Hartenstein deserves his props for completely turning around his season. There was a point early in the season where he was begging to enter Michael Doleac, Travis Knight territory of terrible Knicks white centers. But when Mitchell Robinson went down with an injury, he began to turn around his offensive rebounding and scoring down low. His three point-shooting still hasn’t manifested as advertised with the Clippers, but Hartenstein just might be the best backup big man in the NBA.
Jokić was traveling all over the floor. Hartenstein did his best to contain the sloppy blob of Jokić’s heliocentric game. IHart even had a gorgeous move to the basket, going off the dribble. He started at the three-point line and employed a spin move to break free before slicing to the basket for a made drive. I wonder what else can be unlocked in his game? He has really stepped his game up since the All-Star break on both sides of thUnfortunately, poorll. Poor decision-making by Randle and bricks by RJ Barrett (0-3 for the game but finished with 21 points on 8-13 shooting) led the Nuggets to take the lead before the half, 67- 62.
The start of the third quarter was difficult to watch. Jokić carved up the Knicks' defense with a full array of advanced passing. The traveling no-calls continued for both Joker and Aaron Gordon. Thibs’ fuming on the sideline earned him a tech. On the positive side, Barrett quit shooting threes and fell back in love with driving to the hoop, providing the only means of unstoppability on offense. He seemed to be having fun taking Gordon off the dribble. In his fourth year in the league, he might be finally finding his elite ability in driving to the hoop. Now only if he would stop chucking threes.
Luckily the Knicks roared back thanks to 10 straight points led by Quickley orchestrating off the bench. A three by Hart tied the game at 88-88. When Hart hits a three, takes a charge, or runs the break, the energy of the Garden returns to 1999. He possesses the same DNA and moxie as Latrell Sprewell, as someone who drives to the hoop with endless possibilities. The Knicks ended the third tied at 91.
The fourth was a back-and-forth slugfest. The Nuggets, typically a middling defensive team, showed some grit in crunch time. But it wasn’t enough. Thibodeau used a killer combination of bench and starter minutes to outpace, outrun, and outgas the Nuggets. Brunson was excellent at forcing turnovers, knocking down clutch free throws, and finding Robinson for the game-sealing lob on a fast break.
As my pops texted me when Brunson drew a foul in the last minute. “Nice to have Brunson back.”
- Clyde killed it again with his multi-patterned suit for the game. Name a better broadcasting duo. I’ll wait.
- The Knicks are one of the few teams in the league with the big man rotation to at least body big men superstars like Jokić and Joel Embiid, with Robinson, Hartenstein, and Jericho Sims. The Serbian big man saw fierce Robinson-Randle double teams all game.
- Great to have Brunson back. The team looks like a near-contender with him in the line-up and Immanuel Quickley as the best backup guard in the NBA.
- Brunson informs many positives for this team. One I’ve missed the most is how we jump out to early double-digit leads.
- Barrett is much easier to root for when he attacks the basket twice as much as he bricks threes. He was fantastic tonight at finishing around the rim.
- I bet Leon Rose and company cringe anytime Clyde brings up Robinson’s embarrassing social media. On the other hand, antics. I love that Clyde doesn't give a fuck.
That’s it, go Knicks! They’re back on Monday against the Timberwolves.