It wasn’t long ago that fans and observers were excitedly talking up the potential of a New York Knicks-Brooklyn Nets rivalry. During the summer, both teams had built, or at least maintained, what appeared to be talented, deep rosters, who jibber-jabbered back and forth about one another. They exchanged barbs about who would “run” the city, really represent New York, and chattered about backing up their talk on the court. Both teams looked to vie for supremacy over New York and the Atlantic Division while securing a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
The teams’ play over the first month of the season dashed those hopes, at least temporarily. Through a bevy of injuries, under-performance, and poor coaching, the Knicks and Nets both currently sit near the bottom of the NBA in the standings. Nonetheless, Thursday’s grudge-match had the feel of a “desperation” game. A must-win game for both teams. A game with playoff-like implications that would bring out the bet in each squad. Expectations were again dashed.
Thankfully, the good guys came out on top, mainly because they finally functioned like a real basketball team. The Nets on the other hand looked like they’d have been more comfortable performing at a Russian Circus, judging by how disinterested and dispirited they played right from the jump. This wasn’t so much about the Knicks turning the corner (though they played their best game of the season) as it was the Nets simply letting the Knicks play competent, fundamental basketball.
On offense, the Knicks moved the ball and moved themselves, as Clyde loves to say. The Knicks embraced a patient unselfish swinging style that, boom! — ultimately led to open, perfectly make-able shots. The good vibes began with Andrea Bargnani hitting a midrange jumper from the elbow off a pass from Carmelo Anthony who deferred when the Nets contested his own look. The cheer spread to Raymond Felton, who, rediscovered some of his pick-and-roll magic and his touch on open threes when the Nets ducked under screens. The euphoria enveloped Iman Shumpert who pulled up for in-rhythm treys in transition.
The Knicks opened up a double-digit lead in the first quarter and despite some hiccups before half-time, never quite looked back. That’s not to say that the Knicks were perfect, and the Nets did have their moments in the second quarter when the Knicks’ three-pointers temporarily stopped falling and the ball stopped moving. Brooklyn crashed the boards and earned 11 second-chance points. They made the Knicks’ bigs move on defense, exposing a lousy pick-and-roll defense in the process. The double-digit lead had been cut to three with a few minutes remaining in the second half.
Fortunately, the Knicks regained a bit of balance. A small, but important 9-2 flurry to close the half put the Knicks on top 50-43. It didn’t seem like the end for the Nets, but it was. The Nets have been laughably bad in third quarters this season, and the prospect of another 24 minutes of basketball was apparently enough to cause the flat, slow, and creaky Brooklynites to bring a white flag out of the locker-room when they returned to the court.
The Knicks ripped through Brooklyn’s anemic defense, often with an entry pass to Carmelo Anthony after he successfully grappled for position with whichever Net had the misfortune of checking him. When help arrived, Anthony appropriately shared with his mates. The beneficiary of the Nets’ resultant late rotations was often Iman Shumpert: Pop-pop-bang. The Knicks had five three-pointers in the third quarter, three of them from Shump, who finished with 17 points on 5-7 shooting from downtown. ‘Melo also deftly hit Amar’e Stoudemire off pick and rolls, as the dynamic duo-that-never-was tallied the Knicks’ final 13 points of the quarter. The lead ballooned to 20-plus points and it was all shenanigans from there.
J.R. Smith got in rhythm for a couple of shots and Tim Hardaway Jr. got to boast his offensive repertoire as the feature of the Knicks’ offense. Best of all, Andrea Bargnani got ejected — wait for it — for trash-talking Kevin Garnett. After the two received technicals after a bit of a scuffle boxing each other out, Bargnani hit a three-pointer and jawed at KG while running down the court. Joey Crawford, the ray of sunshine that he is, hit Bargnani with a second technical and ejected him.
This was easily the best of the Knicks’ four wins this season.
What Went Right
- Three-pointers! Lots of them! The Knicks canned 16 of their 27 looks from beyond the arc, easily their best number of the season. As mentioned, Shumpert contributed heavily to that number, but it was equally encouraging to see Felton and Smith go 3-5 and 2-4 from downtown, respectively. The Nets are the worst defensive team in the league, but hopefully this rhythm can carry over.
- Carmelo Anthony. As mentioned, Anthony’s passing was on-point tonight. If hockey assists were counted in awarding triple-doubles, it appeared as thought Anthony wouldn’t have had a problem racking one up. Instead, we’ll have to settle with 19 points on 12 shots, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists in 31 minutes. Let’s hope that, too, carries over.
- Individual defense. The Knicks should be commended for holding the Nets to 83 points on 39% shooting, but some of that was Brooklyn’s own doing. The Knicks didn’t employ any great team defensive schemes, and the Nets were happy to simply go one-on-one and let their offense stagnate. As a result, the Knicks defended with vigor, fighting over screens much more than we’re used to seeing, and mostly making a legitimate effort to contest shots. Things might have been much different had Deron Williams and Paul Pierce not been injured, but the Knicks got the job done regardless.
What Went Wrong
- Not a whole lot. That simple declaration in this singular bullet point should caution that things went better than we’ve accustomed to, and so the Knicks shouldn’t get too high (figuratively, J.R.) after this win. It was good to see them employ some successful (if not wholly basic) basketball strategies, but the Nets are as lowly as they come these days. Despite a better record than New York, Brooklyn looks fully dispirited and unattached to the game. They don’t play for each other, they don’t play for their coach, they don’t even really play for pride. It almost made me want to text a friend of mine who’s a Brooklyn Nets fan and offer him some sympathy. Almost.
- Kevin Garnett, lowly as he is in his old, decrepit basketball state, still inspires hatred. Bargnani met KG’s physicality in their little box-out skirmish, but Garnett’s insistence on lording directly over Bargnani afterwards (which sparked the brush-up) was obnoxious. He also held his hands in the air in the “I-didn’t-do-anything” pose for a solid four minutes afterwards. I revel in Garnett’s slow demise.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. celebrates a little too much on the bench. The spirit is nice, but the Knicks are also 4-13, coming off a nine-game losing streak. Where’s Rasheed Wallace when you need hm to tell the rook to cool it?
- Kenyon Martin, who was mostly quiet, had some gorgeous passes on the offensive end, the most splendid coming off a pick-and-roll where he dropped off a pass to Stoudemire for a baseline jam.
That’s it for now. The Knicks play the Orlando Magic tomorrow night. The Magic have both a better record than the Knicks and the Nets, and unlike either team, are young, athletic and hungry. So again, while we can certainly hope the Knicks have turned a corner, let’s not get too excited about one win.