NEW YORK – Nikola Jokic had the Knicks’ defense in knots. And then he did the same to the Garden faithful.
Amid his monster performance here Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, Knicks fans couldn’t decide whether to boo their own team or cheer the performance of the NBA’s reigning MVP. Jokic picked New York’s defense clean, spearheading a commanding 113-99 Nuggets win.
”I like something here,” Jokic said. “I don’t know what it is.”
A chance encounter with Spike Lee, perhaps? When Lee told Jokic there wasn’t a foul on a particular play, the affable superstar responded: “Brother, I think it was.”
Jokic’s 32-point, 11-rebound, five-assist onslaught earned him a just reward. On the third stop of the team’s grueling seven-game road trip, Jokic rested the entire fourth quarter.
The Nuggets (11-11) next take their traveling party to Chicago for a date with the Bulls on Monday night.
Forward Zeke Nnaji logged a career-high 21 points, including 5-of-8 from beyond the 3-point line. It was the latest push Nnaji’s made for more playing time since injuries to P.J. Dozier (ACL) and Michael Porter Jr.’s (back surgery).
“I’m not usually one to ever get complacent with a taste of success,” Nnaji said of his career game. “I want to keep building off that.”
Recent G League call-up Davon Reed made a strong impact in his first game this season with the Nuggets. He scored nine points, aiding Denver’s 43-32 edge on bench points. He also won the Defensive Player of the Game chain, as chosen by Denver’s coaches.
“The entire locker room was thrilled for Zeke Nnaji,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “The entire locker room was thrilled for Davon Reed.”
The Nuggets called timeout 67 seconds into the third quarter. Back-to-back second-chance opportunities gave the Knicks some slight momentum before Denver put an end to the drama.
Malone joked his timeout was simply “good coaching.”
Apparently re-focused, the Nuggets blitzed the Knicks the rest of the quarter. Jokic conducted it all, serving up no-look passes for easy 3-point looks and burying 3-pointers. Amid the huge swing, the Nuggets went from a 69-63 lead to a 92-71 margin entering the fourth.
They did it with devastating, unselfish passing from Jokic, primarily to Will Barton and Monte Morris. When Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley got out on the break late in the third, Jeff Green took off to contest the dunk. After swatting the look, Jokic bolted from his seat on the bench to let Green know how much he appreciated the effort.
As the third quarter dragged on and the deficit ballooned, the Knicks’ faithful rained down boos at the Garden.
The effort and accountability of the Nuggets were refreshing in the wake of the team’s defensive disaster in Orlando on Wednesday. To an extent, Malone appreciated his team’s self-policing.
“That’s a tough one because you like the fact that guys are willing to own up when they’re not playing to the level that we know we’re capable of, but it’s also frustrating because why allow it to happen in the game?” Malone said. “Call it out earlier. … The fact that we have guys that are asking to show the clip again, offer their insights, own their mistakes, is always a positive.”
Jokic carved up the Knicks’ defense like he was taking down a Thanksgiving turkey. His 17-point, seven-rebound, three-assist buoyed a convincing first half from the Nuggets, who responded well following their ugly loss to Orlando. Denver carried a 60-49 lead into the break but wasn’t just the reigning MVP who tortured the Knicks.
Nnaji had 16 points in the first half, including four-of-seven from 3-point range. His perimeter shooting was part of a pivotal 14-3 first-half run to start the second quarter.