At this stage of their building phases, it is not so much a question about which of these two rivals is better but whether they are good enough to truly be called rivals. In any case, the Knicks and Nets are close enough in talent as well as geography to combine for an entertaining show.
This time, the final act belonged to the Nets. Caris LeVert, who is staking a claim to be his team’s go-to player, drove against Tim Hardaway Jr. and hit a layup with one second left for a 107-105 win over the Knicks on Friday night at Barclays Center. From that shot, and all that preceded it, it sure felt like a rivalry. At least it felt that way to the Nets, who knew the interborough record from last season.
“We didn’t beat them last year. We knew that coming into today,” LeVert said. “We definitely wanted to get that revenge and start our season off the right way at home.”
Hardaway, who tied with teammate Enes Kanter for game-high honors with 29 points, missed a three-pointer at the buzzer. LeVert finished with 28 points and New York finished with its first thriller of the basketball season.
The teams and their fans went back and forth in a fourth quarter that was particularly intense, if not flawless. A signature sequence: Feelings ran high when Kanter whacked LeVert to the floor with 5:44 left, a play that prompted a review to determine if it was a flagrant foul. That was ruled to be the case. The four-point possession put the Nets up by four. Little more than a minute later, though, Kevin Knox’s three-pointer tied it.
Before the game, Knicks coach David Fizdale acknowledged the special feeling in a two-team city but said, “I think both of our teams need to start winning a lot more before we call this a serious rivalry. You’ve got to earn that. Obviously, when we’re not playing, I’m rooting for a New York team. But for both of us, we’ve got to get to the point where our teams deserve the rivalry.”
Afterward, though, Fizdale spoke of how impressive the atmosphere was amid a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center— the home opener for the Nets and home-away-from-home opener for the Knicks: “I expected nothing less from our city. They’ve got two good teams they can be proud of. A lot of young kids out here that are playing really hard that are being coached hard and they’re representing the city really well.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said: “I felt it. I felt it walking out there, I felt it during the game. It was great, the ebb and flow of the game. The Knicks came back and the Knicks fans go crazy. Then we come back and our fans were great. I’d love for both teams to keep improving and have these battles going forward into the future.”
But the past played a huge role Friday night — specifically, the 2017-18 Knicks-Nets series. Said Atkinson, “It was tough, taking four on the chin.”
Not this time. Credit LeVert.
“He got down the lane, he made a good finish. He’s a great player,” Hardaway said. “Got to give him credit. Got to know that he’s going right. Got to know that. It falls on me. Just being around him all this time, I should know that. But you’ve got to move on. Next time it won’t happen. Move on.’’
And they might just have a rivalry in the making on their hands. “This year,” said the Nets’ D’Angelo Russell, “is a new year.”