Nets survive Knicks and prove starpower trumps fanpower

·4 min read

NEW YORK — While Knicks fans won the battle in the stands, the Nets won the war on the scoreboard.

New York City’s cross-bridge Nets-Knicks rivalry is alive and well and has never been better, as reflected by the largest crowd in Brooklyn Nets history that flooded Barclays Center on Tuesday night. Both teams are competing for playoff position and both are coming off their best seasons in recent history.

Only one of New York’s teams, however, could be declared the victor, and while Knicks fans serenaded the Nets with boos all game long, often drowning out the MVP chants that peppered Brooklyn’s superstars on their own home floor, no amount of fanpower could compensate for the disparity in starpower.

One game after a blunder against the Phoenix Suns, James Harden played his best game of the season to lead the Nets to a 112-110 victory over the Knicks in the first rivalry game this season. Harden set the tone with 15 points in the first quarter and scored 34 points on the night on 11-of-20 shooting from the field and 9-of-10 shooting from the foul line. It was the most aggressive we’ve seen Harden seek his shot this season, one game after he said he’s still searching for the balance between scoring and facilitating without Kyrie Irving in the lineup.

Harden’s approach was to shoot first, ask questions later. He ended the first half with a crossover into a side-step three over new Knicks starting point guard Alec Burks just seconds before the buzzer sounded then finished the first three quarters with 30 points.

And then it was Kevin Durant’s turn. Durant shot just 2-of-9 to start the game but came alive in the fourth quarter. After his cold start, he shot 7-of-14 from the field and finished with 27 points despite missing all five of his three-point attempts. Durant also recorded nine assists, often directing the Nets’ offense while Harden was in attack mode.

The strong effort from Durant and Harden, however, illuminated one of Brooklyn’s biggest weaknesses: depth, which happens to be a strength for their cross-bridge rival. The Nets have already been shorthanded without Kyrie Irving, who the organization deemed ineligible to play or practice with the team due to his vaccination status. They have been even more light in the front court and on the wing with Joe Harris’ ankle injury and Nic Claxton’s undisclosed illness.

Durant and Harden combined for 61 points but got little from LaMarcus Aldridge (eight points, 4-of-11 shooting) in his third consecutive start at the center position. Standout rookie Cam Thomas was the only other Net to make a real impact with 12 points off the bench. Patty Mills had 10 points, but his buckets were few and far between.

Meanwhile the Knicks had five players score in double figures, and their well-rounded attack kept them in the game down the stretch. Burks cored 25 points in his first start at the point guard position in place of Kemba Walker and shot 40% from downtown. Julius Randle flirted with a triple double and posted 24 points, 9 rebounds and eight assists, including a side-step, fading shot over Durant in the fourth quarter that got the crowd onto its feet.

Evan Fournier hit the biggest shot of the night, a three off of a screen that tied the game at 110 apiece to get the Knicks fans in the arena out their seats.

Again, this game was more about starpower than fanpower, and Durant silenced the opposing crowd by drawing attention and commanding a double team on the game’s final possession, before dishing the ball to James Johnson, who was fouled on a layup attempt and nailed both free throws.

The Knicks had no timeouts, and Fournier’s half-court heave was off the mark.

Rivalries are crystallized in the playoffs, and if there ever is a Knicks-Nets playoff series, Tuesday night was an early taste. It was also a reminder: the Knicks are good and their fans are loud, but few teams have the firepower to match the Nets, even if they’re shorthanded.

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