Smack Nuggets, Knicks Rout Champs

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The Knicks played their best game of the season, while the defending champion Denver Nuggets played their worst. It was clear from the start that the Nuggets overlooked the Knicks.

The Knicks thoroughly dominated the defending champions to the tune of a 122-84 thrashing at Madison Square Garden Thursday night for their fifth consecutive win.

The Knicks led wire to wire for the 7th time this season and what was most impressive about this win was that they never let up. Things were going so well for the Knicks that Coach Tom Thibodeau kept Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.

That’s a really good team over there,” Brunson said. “I think we caught ‘em on a bad night, so that’s obviously not typical of them, but hey, I mean a win’s a win.”

Knicks (28-17,15-5 at MSG) have won 11 of their last 13 and improved to 8-16 against teams over .500.

O.G. Anunoby had his best game as a Knick as he scored 26 points and had 6 of the Knicks’ 12 steals. Brunson had his usual strong game with 21 points and 4 assists while Donte DiVicenzo added 16.

Brunson’s streak of five straight games scoring 30 or more points came to an end. The NBA named the starting All Star teams for next month’s All Star game in Indianapolis. Brunson was not named a starter, but if he is not added to the All Star team next week, it would be a travesty.

It’s no coincidence that this current Knicks stretch has resulted in large part due to the acquisition of Anunoby (11-2 with him in the lineup). “Each game a little more comfortable,” Thibodeau said, “He’s [Anunoby] finding a good rhythm and I think he’s making really good decisions as to when to shoot and when to pass, but he’s getting downhill and making a lot of good plays for us.”

Randle, who scored 17 pts, with 7 rebounds and 8 assists, used his strength inside to frustrate the Nuggets who, for one night, looked nothing like a defending championship team. Late in the third quarter, the Knicks were already leading by 28 when Randle used his strength to outmuscle three Nuggets and score on a putback.

We wanted to get off to a good start and play with the lead,” Randle said. “Play strong with the lead and sustain it throughout the game and build on it as the game went on.”

The Knicks were in sync offensively as they shot 53% overall and 40% from beyond the arc. They outrebounded the Nuggets 44-34, had a 58-46 edge in points in the paint and a 40-22 advantage from the bench. Quentin Grimes led the bench scoring with 19 pts.

We def played well I think we definitely were doing things to help us be in an advantage all night so I give us a lot of credit for how we played today. That’s still a really good team over there, I mean they had an off night,” said Brunson.

The Knicks defense forced Denver (who was averaging 11 turnovers per game) into 19 turnovers and took full advantage scoring 26 points off of those miscues.

Nikola Jokic led Denver with 31 pts and 11 rebounds but it was a rough night for the two time MVP, who also had 7 turnovers.

With a little over four minutes left in the second quarter, the Knicks were leading 52-33 when Donte DiVicenzo poked Jokic in the left eye. The big man stayed down for a few minutes but he got up to shoot two free throws.

Jokic stayed in the game until the next whistle and then left for the locker room. Jokic returned for the second half but sat out the entire fourth quarter as the Knicks continued to roll.

Jamal Murray had an awful night as he scored 9 points on 3 of 11 shooting, while Michael Porter Jr, who was averaging a tad over 16 PPG, scored only five points.

Anunoby got the ball rolling with a three pointer in the opening 30 seconds of the game and the Knicks took a 33-21 after one.

In the second quarter, Thibodeau stayed with the bench and Precious Achiuwa gave the Knicks some solid play in the middle as he had 7 rebounds and 2 assists in 9 minutes.

The lead ballooned to 62-41 at the half and you kept waiting for Denver to make their move but it never materialized as the Knicks kept their foot on the gas in the second half.

The Knicks were beating the Nuggets to almost every loose ball and at times, it appeared as if the defending champs did not want to be anywhere near Madison Square Garden. That showed in the third quarter when Jokic literally gave up on a play that led to a Brunson dunk.

With the Knicks leading 75-50 midway through the third quarter, DiVicenzo passed up court to Brunson, who beat Jokic to the ball. The Nuggets center let Brunson go without making any effort to play defense and the Knicks guard slammed one home to the delight of the crowd.

The Nuggets could never get any closer as the fourth quarter turned into extended garbage time. The Knicks held their opponent under 100 points for the 13th time this season, which is tied with Minnesota for the best in the NBA.

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