Nikola Jokic missed three of his last four shots and had a turnover in the final minutes of the Knicks’ win over the Nuggets.
His primary defender? Mitchell Robinson.
Robinson’s fingerprints were all over the Knicks’ win over Denver on Saturday. He had seven of New York’s 15 offensive rebounds and added three assists, a steal and a block in the victory.
It was the first time in Robinson’s five-year career that he’d beaten the Nuggets at full strength.
“Jokic is a very talented player,” Robinson said. Getting out there, getting the win, it felt great.”
This was also Robinson’s first game since he wrote a post on Snapchat complaining about his role in the Knicks’ offense. Robinson followed up with a post on Instagram, saying that he’s been through a lot personally recently.
After Saturday’s win, Robinson said that he is indeed happy with his role in New York.
“If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be playing (the way) I just did. So yeah,” the fifth-year center said.
Tom Thibodeau seemed to take Robinson’s comments about his role in stride.
“Mitch has been terrific all season. Anyone can have a bad day. If you have a bad day bounce back, have a great day. Don’t put anything in the way of the team,” Thibodeau said after the Knicks’ win.
I think he understands that. His teammates, they respect him and they appreciate him. We know all the dirty work that he does for the team. It’s a big part. He’s got a huge role for our team. Go out and play, next play, don’t worry about what happened next play. No one’s perfect.”
Based on how his teammates feel about him, it would be surprising if any Knick was upset with Robinson’s Snapchat post.
“We’re all brothers, so we kinda even joked about it on the plane a little bit,” Immanuel Quickley said. “Mitch, he’s a great guy off the floor. Obviously, I think everybody knows that. He’s, like, a character. He can be funny and outgoing a little bit.
We understand who Mitch is and we told him, ‘Any time we can help you get the ball a little bit more, we gonna try to do that.’ So, we don’t take it too (seriously). We want everybody on the team to be happy and try to eat as well as winning.”
The Knicks have been doing plenty of winning lately. They are 12 games above .500 with 10 games to play. They’ll enter next week at least 1.5 games ahead of Brooklyn for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
And they’ve managed to win with both Jalen Brunson and Robinson out for significant stretches.
“Sometimes guys are dealing with injuries or guys are not playing their best and it’s great knowing that you turn to the bench and you have guys that can be starters, guys that can produce at a high level in this league,” Josh Hart said of New York’s depth. “And it gives you comfort knowing that it might not be my night but it’s gonna be somebody’s night.”
“You got guys that’s coming off the bench who can be starters. You got obviously the starters, who obviously are starters for a reason. And you’ve seen the depth that we have with Deuce coming in, especially that Portland game — the whole road trip but especially that Portland game playing how he did. That’s something that you want down the stretch.
That’s something that sometimes guys are dealing with injuries or guys are not playing their best and it’s great knowing that you turn to the bench and you have guys that can be starters, guys that can produce at a high level in this league. And it gives you comfort knowing that it might not be my night but it’s gonna be somebody’s night.”
Isaiah Hartenstein’s play lately is an example of New York’s depth. He and Josh Hart helped New York’s bench keep the game even in the fourth quarter.
Hartenstein had three rebounds and an assist in the fourth quarter. The Knicks outscored Denver by one in that stretch, giving the starters a chance to close the game.
In the seven games prior to Saturday’s win, Hartenstein had a plus/minus of +85 – a number that tells you how much he’s impacted games lately.
“I don’t know if it’s a change as much as he’s processed everything. I think he’s a lot more comfortable,” Thibodeau said.
When a player comes in and he’s new he’s adjusting to a new system and new teammates, it takes a little bit of time. One of the byproducts of when Mitch was out it gave him a chance to really get into rhythm and he’s gotten healthy. That’s a big part of it as well.”
Julius Randle loves what he’s seen from Hartenstein of late.
“He’s just doing a lot of little things. Whether he scores 10 points, 15 points, he rebounds, he defends, gets his hands on plays and deflections and stuff like that. Sets screens, really good screens,” Randle said.
He just does a lot of little things for us that helps us win.”
Taking it to Hart
With Saturday’s win, the Knicks improved to 11-3 with Josh Hart in the lineup. They have 42 wins, which is a career-high for Hart.
On Saturday, Hart had 13 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. It was the second game he’s reached those numbers off the bench for New York.
Afterward, Hart warned against the Knicks getting too comfortable at this point in the season.
“It’s a feel-good win for us playing a tough team like that, playing against the one-seed but at the end of the day we can’t get complacent. I think if we beat a team like that and get complacent it doesn’t mean anything,” Hart said.
So work hard, continue to get better, continue to learn. We’d rather learn with wins than losses. We got Minnesota on Monday. A tough Minnesota team. They’re going to come in here ready to go.”