DENVER – Thanks to a road trip from hell. It’s been the most blissful holiday so far for the Knicks.
They left New York Sunday reeling, and after three nights, they found themselves on the road, sweeping back-to-back challenges in Utah and Denver with two big performances in the fourth quarter.
Led by Julius Randle’s best game of the season, and the defense standing tall with the game on the line, the Knicks pulled ahead from 10 late in the fourth quarter to knock out Nikola Jokic’s no-Nuggets, 106-103, Wednesday night in the stunning ballpark for the franchise’s first win in Denver in 16 years.
Randle’s free throw with 50.6 seconds left gave the Knicks the lead for good, and Emmanuel Kwikley played a locking defense on Jamal Murray in the closing seconds to preserve the win.
“Julius Randle, Julius Randle and Julius Randle,” Galen Bronson said, when asked about his initial thoughts for the dramatic victory.
“We stick together, we stick together and we believe,” said Randle, who, like many Knicks, played despite the bad weather.
Randle was a beast, with 34 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals. Bronson hit two free throws with 10.5 seconds left and finished with 21 points and seven assists. Derrick Rose added 13 points off the bench for the Knicks, who improved to 8-7 and survived a horrific night of shooting from RJ Barrett (4-for-18). Murray and Bones Hyland each have 21 Nuggets (9-5).
Tuesday, the Knicks shut down the Jazz during the first part of the fourth quarter. On Wednesday, they held Denver to just seven points over a final 8:44. Their poor defense on the road showed up to buy time.
“We were together,” Bronson said. “As I said yesterday, we play with a sense of urgency and desperation.”
Just when the Knicks appeared to be dead in the water, down 10 with 8:06 remaining, Randle came back and they went behind the Randle-Obi Tobin lineup. Randle engineered a 17-2 inning that included seven scores from him, two steals, and the big man diving for a loose ball to mount Bronson’s dunk.
“Joe’s entry, he hit the ground running, changed the game,” said Cam Reddish, a key player on the defensive end that last quarter. “That energy and effort meant a lot.”
When Bronson tells him he should dunk it for him, Randall is flustered. He didn’t think Bronson could do that.
“Wonderful,” said Randall, smiling. “I can’t believe it.”
After Reddish finished driving, the Knicks held a five-point lead with 2:00 remaining. Hyland responded with five straight points to get the Nuggets even with 1:05 to go, forcing a timeout for the Knicks.
Bronson fouled the ensuing possession, but Randle fouled a loose punt on Jeff Green, putting the Knicks back on top to stay. Now they get a well-deserved day off before facing the defending champions Warriors, and need just one more win to clinch a very surprising winning road trip.
“It’s good, but we have to keep it going. A great start to the journey,” said Randle. “But we feel like when we play the way we’ve played, and it starts on the defensive end for us, we give ourselves a chance every night.”