The Denver Nuggets clearly just didn’t have the energy tonight.

On the final game of a tough five-game road trip, the Denver Nuggets were absolutely blitzed by the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Denver’s defense was mostly nonexistent, and the Knicks simply made every hustle play that the Nuggets either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Denver’s starting five all had a plus-minus of -21 or worse, and with Denver’s bench unit constructed the way it is, that’s an automatic L.

Nikola Jokic brought some scoring to the party for the starters, going for 31 points and 11 rebounds in his 27 minutes. Jokic had just three assists to seven turnovers though as New York’s perimeter defense bothered him and the Nuggets pretty consistently. Denver’s other starters also just couldn’t hit shots, combining to shoot 12-of-31 from the field and 2-of-7 from three-point range.

Jokic brought it himself though, working through double teams, hitting jumpers and runners, fighting on the offensive glass. He was great individually, and the turnovers don’t reflect that. He was so great in fact that Donte DiVincenzo poked him hard in the eye (unintentionally) to get him to sit the last four minutes of the first half.

Jokic was able to come back out in the third quarter and was still making some impressive shots, but the momentum was so clearly with the Knicks that any mistake Denver made turned into points for New York.

Jamal Murray was held to just 9 points on 3-of-11 shooting tonight. He struggled to get free of OG Anunoby, who basically guarded him for the entire contest. Murray was forced into several tough shots, and the length/strength of Anunoby on Murray clearly bothered him. Murray had seven assists and three turnovers, but too often was the water cut off on his scoring by Anunoby. For a Nuggets team that relies so heavily on the two-man game, cutting off Murray’s scoring entirely was a great strategy for the Knicks.

Usually, that’s an opportunity for another Nugget to step up and hit some shots, especially with the Knicks tilting their best perimeter defender toward Denver’s starting point guard. Unfortunately, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., and Aaron Gordon combined for just 22 points on 20 shots, making exactly one three-pointer.

Porter in particular appeared bothered by New York’s perimeter defense, attempting just four shots and clearly being a step slow behind the play on both ends. The Nuggets need him to be the guy that steps up in situations like this when he’s being guarded by Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart, two solid defenders but two guys who he should be able to shoot over at any point. He passed out of an open three tonight that caused a turnover and didn’t even attempt an actual three. That seems like an issue for one of the leading three-point shooters in the NBA today.

Gordon had 14 points on 5-of-10 from the field, but his lack of three-point shooting (27.8% on the season) has clogged the paint on several occasions. Caldwell-Pope had just five points and didn’t record a single rebound, assist, steal, or block. That’s not good enough, especially when his primary matchup of Jalen Brunson carved up the Nuggets on the other end.

Denver’s defense was also atrocious, allowing several wide open threes, offensive rebounds, and transition runouts. The Knicks maintained 53-39-85 shooting splits on the evening while committing just eight turnovers. Brunson was in the paint consistently, while Julius Randle bully balled his way into points at the rim. OG Anunoby started off the game with a wide open three (left wide open by Porter) and then finished with 26 points. DiVincenzo had 16 points and six assists of his own, going at both Murray and Caldwell-Pope whenever he wanted.

Denver wraps up their five-game road trip with a 3-2 record, bookmarked by a tough loss to the Philadelphia 76ers and an embarrassing loss tonight. In between, Denver had three wins, including their most impressive win of the season, so Denver still gets a passing grade for what was the toughest trip of the season.

Still, it’s not great to finish things off with that kind of effort and intensity.

Denver will face the Philadelphia 76ers once again on Saturday, this time in Denver. Joel Embiid sustained a minor knee injury tonight, though he finished the game against the Indiana Pacers. Let’s see if we can get the superstar center matchup in Denver this time or if Embiid’s return to Denver will be put off by another minor injury.

Final Rotations