The New Knicksy
These Knicks beat the Nuggets 116-110 and continue to flip old narratives on their head.
From the very first time Nikola Jokic faced off against the New York Knicks, he’s been something of a problem.
His first game against them came way back in February of 2016, when the portly rookie had been the full time starter for barely a month. He came into the Garden and put up 13 points in 18 minutes, sending the Knicks to their ninth loss in 10 games and nudging Derek Fisher out of a job in the process. One month later, Kurt Rambis didn’t fair much better at trying to devise a plan to stop the big man.
Shocking, I know.
Those two wins started a trend that remained largely uninterrupted until this weekend. Jokic won 13 of his first 14 career starts against New York, most of which came in convincing fashion. It took a then-career high 38 points from Kristaps Porzingis for the Knicks to come up with their lone victory in that time, in late October of 2017.
That win brought the Knicks to 3-3. That’s no big deal for the vast majority of franchises, but for New York, it gave the fan base the first legitimate reason to be hopeful in years. They had a young roster surrounding a big man who seemed primed for stardom, much like the foe he vanquished that day. But only one of the two - Porzingis - went on to make the 2018 All-Star team, while Jokic watched from home.
We know what happened next. KP’s fragile frame failed to hold up, while Jokic, the bear that he is, reaches higher heights every year. Along the way, he has continued to humiliate the Knicks - toying with them in a way that has gone beyond just winning. Games against Nikola’s Nuggets became demoralizing, over before they began. This is the sort of player that you, New York, will never have. He elevated the game while we brought it down. Insult and injury, all wrapped up in one nice, not-so-little package.
Even in the #WeHere season, when New York strode into Denver in May having won 12 of their last 13 games, Jokic unloaded an avalanche on the visitors before they knew what hit them. He outscored the entire Knick team 24-12 in the first quarter. Garbage time started before the first sub checked in.
This was the backdrop for Saturday afternoon, with everything once again set up for a glorious Serbian romp. Yes, the Nuggets had been struggling, but they woke up from their hibernation in a big way on Thursday night. Trailing Detroit 91-86 early in the fourth, they outscored the Pistons 33-9 the rest of the way. Still, the doubts from their four-game losing streak remained. It would take a win over a real team to officially correct the narrative. Who better than Denver’s annual punching bag to serve as the sacrificial lamb.
And for a while, it looked like that’s exactly what would transpire. After shaking off their early afternoon slumber, the Nuggets engineered a 26-point turnaround, flipping a 13-point deficit on its head and hitting 19 out of 22 shots in the process. Denver scored 52 points in a span of just over 13 minutes. Up 84-71 halfway into the third quarter, New York looked dead in the water.
That’s when these Knicks did what these Knicks always do: they dug in their heels and said “not today.”
Of all the themes that have emerged from this season, perhaps the defining one will be this: a group that wasn’t supposed to finish above .500 has taken the notion of Knicksy and flipped it on its head. For instance, it has become Knicksy to come up with a win anytime one is desperately needed. Turning fake comebacks into real comebacks is another thing that is suddenly so very Knicksy. And what is Knicksier than jumping all over an unsuspecting opponent who can’t match the requisite level of intensity.
That’s their defining characteristic now, and it showed up again in the middle of the third quarter, as New York used a 19-4 run to take a lead they’d mostly maintain the rest of the way.
The best part? Everyone was a part of it. No one wants to hear my sob story anymore about trying to figure out Stars of the Game, but to hell if I have any idea who tomorrow’s newsletter will reward. Brunson returned from injury, setting the tone early before making several big plays late. Julius hit arguably the biggest shot of the night, breaking a tie at 110-all with a tough fadeaway jumper over the outstretched arm of Aaron Gordon. RJ carried their offense in the third, and defended his butt off throughout the game. Mitchell Robinson put his recent social media dustup in the dustbin and upped his intensity against Jokic during New York’s push. Hartenstein was no slouch either, both defending the two-time MVP and bringing it to him on the other end. On a night when few Knicks found the range, Grimes was 3-of-5 from distance.
And of course, there was the man who turned this team from a cute story into a serious concern for any opponent.
Josh Hart isn’t the best Knick, but in a way, he has become their defining force. The qualities they espoused as they were finding their way, he embodies all of them. Exudes them every minute he’s on the court. His passion is inevitable.
They don’t win this game without Hart, but then again, the same could be said of just about everyone who played. This was, as much as any game this season, a true team win. That it came over a quality opponent who had their number and was playing with a bit of desperation makes it even better.
At some point, the Knicks will lose a game with Hart on the roster and Brunson at full health.
But that day wasn’t yesterday.
Too tough to lose? Sounds pretty Knicksy to me.
That’s it for today! I’ll have a more detailed recap coming tomorrow, complete with Stars of the Game. As always, a big thanks to our sponsor:
See y’all soon! #BlackLivesMatter
Sometimes I wonder if our most realistic path to getting a superstar is Brunson just becoming one
Bang! Bang! Great newsletter Jonathan!!