It has been a long wait for a game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets that held any significance other than Big Apple bragging rights. Monday night the two rivals squared off at the Barclays Center. The Nets (26-13) entered the contest with the second best mark in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks (20-20) came in tied for sixth and just percentage points out of fourth. New York has been as high as tied for fourth.
Even with what turned out to be a loss, New York showed the audience of a nationally televised broadcast that they are a team on the rise. After trailing most of the evening, the Knicks used their patented defense to rally in the waning minutes before falling 117-112. The Nets are now 13-1 in their last 14 games.
“We got in a big hole in the first half. I thought we fought hard in the second half, I thought we did a lot of good things,” Tom Thibodeau said. “They’re an excellent team. If you let your guard down for two or three minutes they put a lot of points on the board in a hurry.”
Things began on a positive note for the Knicks. New York is 12-3 in games where they shoot better than 40% from behind the arc. Conversely, the Knicks are only 8-16 in games where they connect on less then 40% of their treys. In this one New York came out smoking, hitting four of their first six three-point attempts with Reggie Bullock firing in three of them. The Knicks opened up an 18-11 lead, but a 7-0 Brooklyn run quickly erased it.
As if Kyrie Irving and James Harden aren’t enough to deal with, Jeff Green gave the Nets a first quarter spark. Green scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the opening 12 minutes to compliment the 10 of Irving. Brooklyn turned around the early deficit to lead by seven. A bucket by Immanuel Quickley in the final seconds made it 35-30 Brooklyn after one.
Things began to crumble for the Knicks to begin the second. A slam by Nicolas Claxton and a trey by Tyler Johnson gave the Nets their first double digit lead at 40-30. Harden was fouled on a 3-point attempt and canned all three free throws as the New York deficit ballooned to 45-30 just three minutes in. Bullock did his best to keep the Knicks in the game as he knocked down five treys for 17 points.
The Nets pushed the lead to 17, but a 6-0 run by the Knicks sliced it to 11. Brooklyn extended the lead back to 18 at 65-47. However, the Knicks stayed resilient scoring eight of the last 10 points of the stanza, including four straight by RJ Barrett. The Nets held a 67-54 advantage at the half.
New York has been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA to this point of the season, but the Nets shredded them in the first half. Steve Nash’s club shot 62.5% through the first two quarters. Meanwhile, Brooklyn who is not known for their defensive prowess, held the Knicks to just 37.5%. Green and Irving combined for 33 first half points.
One of the attributes of New York under Thibodeau is how gritty they have been. This contest was another example. Despite not having the extreme talent of Brooklyn the Knicks hung around. Every time that the Nets tried to finish them off New York remained vigilent. Brooklyn extended the margin to as much as 18 more than once, but the Knicks sliced the lead to a dozen heading to the final quarter.
Early in the fourth New York pulled within 10. A three-pointer by Alec Burks chopped the Brooklyn lead to 96-89. A 12-2 run forced a timeout by the Nets. Irving connected on a three ball after the respite to lift the lead back to double figures. Again, New York would not falter. The Knicks stepped up their intensity on defense, unraveling the Nets a bit. A three-pointer by Burks and a layup by Barrett put the Knicks with 107-103 with 4:29 remaining.
This battle came down to the final possessions. Superstars Irving and Harden were not to be denied down the stretch. Consequently, the Knicks couldn’t convert on several good looks. However, New York’s defensive execution in the final seconds was tremendous. The Knicks forced a timeout on a near five second count. Orchestrated a held ball in which they won the jump ball. They controlled the jump leading to a Randle slam to make it 115-112 with 7.7 to go. Next, Barrett tied up Joe Harris and was initially called for a foul. The Knicks challenged the call and were successful.
New York won the ensuing tip and called a timeout with 5.7 to play. The inbound pass came into Randle who attempted a three-pointer. The ball was hit on the way up by Irving. When Randle came down he was whistled for a travel. Harden clinched it for the Nets with a pair of foul shots with .6 second left.
A livid Randle had to be restrained by his teammates and coaches after the final horn as he attempted to confront the officials.
“I was just frustrated,” Randle said. “Obviously we fought so hard to come back and try to win the game, so I was just frustrated and that was pretty much it.”
Irving was impossible to contain as he poured in 34 points. Harden recorded a triple-double with 21 points, 15 assists and 15 boards. Green finished with 20.
Randle was superb again for the Knicks, scoring 33 points and hauling in 12 rebounds. Barrett added 23 and Quickley 21 in first NBA start. Bullock chipped in 19 and Burks 12.
New York must put the tough loss behind them in a hurry as they travel to Philadelphia to meet the conference leading 76ers on tonight.
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)