It was one of those rare nights this rejuvenated New York Knicks team didn’t have it. Or it could be the Denver curse, too much Nikola Jokic, and retribution. Or just a combination of everything.
Jokic, the MVP frontrunner, outscored the entire Knicks team in the first quarter, 24-12, as the Nuggets steamrolled to a 113-97 rout on Wednesday night.
It was the Knicks’ first loss in their West Coast trip after they opened it with two straight wins in Houston and Memphis.
Jokic took out the Knicks’ fight early as the Nuggets extended their mastery over the Knicks in Denver to 13 straight games dating back to 2006.
The Knicks came into the game as the hottest team in the league, winners of 12 of their last 13 games.
But Austin Rivers, the spurned former Knick, was hotter on this night. He had his revenge game.
Rivers, whose promising start with the Knicks cut short by the Derrick Rose’s signing, played his best game as a Nugget. He went off for a season-high-tying 25 points.
The Knicks trailed by as many as 31. They put up a token resistance in the third quarter when RJ Barrett hit back-to-back threes, cutting the large deficit to 16. But Rivers caught fire from beyond the arc.
After hitting one of his six three-pointers, Rivers looked towards the Knicks bench. Tension flared up in the fourth quarter when he and Julius Randle jawed at each other after a loose ball scramble.
The loss was a huge setback for the Knicks as the Atlanta Hawks (37-30) closed the gap after soundly beating the Phoenix Suns, 135-103, earlier in the night.
It will be a dogfight in the desert when the Knicks try to bounce back against the Suns on Friday night in Phoenix.
Jokic dominated the Knicks’ thin frontline with a complete line — 32 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks — in just under 30 minutes.
If there’s any silver lining, the Knicks saw how feisty and scrappy Argentinian guards are in anticipation of the arrival of Luca Vildoza.
Vildoza’s teammate at the Argentina national team and Euroleague rival Facundo Campazzo outplayed the Knicks backcourt. The 5-foot-10 Campazzo had a masterful performance, scattering 16 points, nine rebounds, four assists, five steals, and two blocks.
The 25-year old Vildoza, who is confirmed to join the Knicks, had succeeded Campazzo as the Finals MVP in the Spanish ACB league last year.
Immanuel Quickley led the Knicks with 18 points off the bench.
Randle, the freshly minted Eastern Conference’s Best Player of the Month, was a big letdown in his showdown against Jokic. He had a quiet night with only 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
Barrett added 15. He missed his first seven shots in the first 20 minutes before hitting three triples in the third quarter. It injected some life into a lethargic Knicks’ offense. But it was short-lived.
Rivers finished what Jokic has started and delivered the final blows.
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