Jokic & His Sidekicks Win It Down Stretch. Denver 113 NY 100

Nikola Jokic and his sidekicks Michael Porter Jr and Jamal Murray beat the Knicks down the stretch in Denver on a Thursday night — turning a 2-point game with 8 minutes left into the 113-100 win.

Jokic did it seemingly in slow motion with his minimalist-but-deadly finesse moves inside and then passes outside to Porter or Murray who hit 3’s.

Isaiah Hartenstein played a tremendous game against Jokic all night, and scored 20 points himself on 8-10 shooting with 8 rebounds. Jalen Brunson scored 26, and Alec Burks gave NY a big lift in the 4th quarter and finished with 18 points.

But Denver had too much height at multiple positions for the Knicks to contend with — and you were left wondering how this game would’ve played out had Julius Randle, OG Anunoby, and Mitchell Robinson been available for NY. All are still out but hopefully returning soon. With Randle and Anunoby, NY blew out Denver start to finish in a game in NY in January.

“They’re obviously champions for a reason,” said coach Tom Thibodeau afterwards. “We fought hard. Our rebounding wasn’t good throughout the game. I thought offensively we started the game really good. It was a 2-point game with 8 minutes to go in the 4th. A couple of things (happened): some defensive transitions; the Take foul which I’m not sure about — that was a big swing right there.”

NY finished the West Coast road trip at 3-1, and are now 41-28, slipping behind Orlando and into 5th place in the East. Defending champ Denver improves to 49-21, tied for 1st in the West.

1. Hartenstein & Knicks Take It to Rim for Lead Early

The Knicks attacked the rim early against Denver, and did not get much resistance inside from Jokic, Porter or Aaron Gordon — Denver’s front line. The Knicks did a lot of scoring on drives by Jalen Brunson or Josh Hart, and then also hit 3’s on kick outs to the corner.

Isaiah Hartenstein took it to Jokic from the start on both the offensive and defensive end of the court. On offense he was setting picks up high and orchestrating the Knicks passing game, then busted inside for scores against Jokic. Hartenstein’s achilles problem seems to have subsided and he is now playing almost as well as he had been playing earlier this season — aka top-5-center-in-NBA-level play.

Hartenstein played with Denver briefly in 2020-21 — 30 games and 9 minutes a game. They had picked him up after he was waived by Houston following his 2nd season in the league. Denver then traded him midway through the 2020-21 season along with two 2nd-round picks (in 2023 and 2027) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for JaVale McGee.

Hartenstein has come a long way since then.

2. Late 2nd Quarter Run Gives Denver Halftime Lead

The Knicks were up by 4 to 6 points throughout the majority of the 2nd quarter, and a Miles McBride step-back put NY up 54-51 with 2 minutes left in the half.

In the final 2 minutes however:

  • Michael Porter Jr dunked off a Jokic pass,
  • Jamal Murray hit a 3,
  • Brunson countered with a drive, but
  • Porter hit a step-back 3 from the corner, and
  • Jokic made a shot inside and Denver had a 61-56 lead at the half.

3. Porter, Murray, and Jokic Up the Denver Lead in 3rd

It was more Porter, Murray, and Jokic in the 3rd quarter.

Porter scored 9 points in the period on 3 drives and a 3 — en route to 31 points in the game on 13-16 shooting (3-6 from 3) with 8 rebounds.

Porter of course was the guy so many Knick fans wanted the team to draft in the 2018 NBA draft, when the Knicks instead picked Kevin Knox with the #9 pick. Porter went #14 as NY and a number of teams were worried about his bad back — he was estimated to be the best player in the draft and would have went #1 if not for the back issues.

Porter missed his entire rookie season with a bad back, played sparingly in season #2 (2019-20), but really took off in his 3rd season, 2020-21, after which he signed a huge contract extension, but then had a bad back again which limited his play in 2021-22. Just when it looked like the contract extension was a huge folly, Porter had a good 2022-23 (17.4 ppg with a championship ring), and is having a good year this year (17.1 ppg).

In that same 2018 draft, Mikal Bridges went #10, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went #11, and Miles Bridges went #12. All were can’t-miss prospects entering the draft and many Knick fans were imploring NY to draft one of them. But NY out-thought themselves with Knox, perhaps the biggest screwup in Knick draft history. Although the current management team traded Knox for Cam Reddish who they then traded for Josh Hart, so NY turned that error around.

4. Burks Big Lift in 4th

Denver entered the 4th with an 88-76 lead.

But the Knicks hung tough and got right back into it on the scoring of Alec Burks and Bogdan Bogdanovic on the 2nd team.

Burks hit a 3 to start the period, then hit 1 of 2 free throws, then McBride hit a 3 and NY was back in it at 88-83 Denver.

Bogdanovic hit a sniper 3 from straight away and Burks hit a deuce and NY was down by 2 points, at 90-88 with 8:19 left in the game.

5. Jokic, Porter, & Murray Take It Down Stretch

But it was more Porter, Jokic, and Murray down the stretch — helped by a couple of transition-defense lapses by the Knicks.

NY was down 97-92 with 5 minutes left when the controversial call that Thibs mentioned above happened. Murray was going in for an ahead-of-the-field layup but Burks purposely fouled him under the basket to prevent the layup. The refs ruled it a ‘transition take’ foul meaning Burks didn’t go for the ball — he grabbed the person to stop a transition break.

Murray hit the technical free throw, and Denver scored on a Jokic jumper-and-1 — Hartenstein called for a foul but it didn’t look like one as Jokic bodied into Hartenstein. The 4-pt swing put Denver up 101-92 and that was pretty much ballgame.

The Knicks fought valiantly to the final buzzer to no avail.

The Boxscore

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