Nets' Kevin Durant, left, and Kyrie Irving (11) celebrate with...

Nets' Kevin Durant, left, and Kyrie Irving (11) celebrate with Patty Mills (8) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Knicks Wednesday, April 6, 2022, in New York. The Nets won 110-98. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

This wasn’t the way that the Knicks or the Nets — or the NBA, which created a 75th Anniversary crawl through history for the game — believed this game would be when it was penciled into the schedule.

When the schedule was made the Nets’ star-studded lineup made them favorites to win the title and the Knicks were fresh off a fourth-seed and a playoff berth with Tom Thibodeau the reigning coach of the year. They were led by Julius Randle, coming off a second-team All-NBA season.

For the Nets, it was more than just a cross-river rivalry. In what has been a disappointing season marked by high expectations and marred by injuries, controversy and a major trade that has left them one star down, the Nets find themselves scrambling for positioning in the play-in tournament. And down 21 in the third quarter, desperation was deservedly creeping in.

The star power that once belonged to the Knicks was all tilted in the Nets’ favor, but for much of the night they found themselves being out-hustled by the likes of Jericho Sims, Alec Burks and Obi Toppin. But they managed to escape with a 110-98 win Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

“I hate being down like [that],” Kevin Durant said. “I hate even being there, to get down and fight back. I don’t like this [expletive]. I don’t want that to be a part of who we are.”

The win kept the Nets (42-38) in eighth place with a tiebreaker advantage over the Hawks, but hardly left anyone feeling good about what they could accomplish if they get through the play-in and into the playoffs. With two games left they are scrambling to avoid the 9-10 game and be required to win just one game to get through the play-in.

But they certainly didn’t make a strong case on this night. The Knicks were missing Randle and Mitchell Robinson from the starting lineup. The Nets, as usual, were missing any semblance of a defense and relying on Durant and Kyrie Irving to catch fire offensively. That was going to come — and it was just a matter of if it would be in time.

Durant hit two straight mid-range jumpers to push the Nets ahead to stay with 4:13 to play. Durant then smothered a drive by RJ Barrett and misfired a three, but got his own rebound and kicked it out to Irving, who delivered a three for a five-point lead. Another three, this time by Seth Curry, and it was over, fueled by the Nets’ 10-0 run.

“The last four or five minutes are going to be different intensity-wise,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And they came down and they made and we didn’t.”

Durant finished with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds and Irving added 24 points. Alec Burks led the Knicks with 24 points while Sims posted his first career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Barrett had 23 points but shot 7-for-17.

Once Durant got going late — with 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the fourth quarter alone, there was little the Knicks could do. Barrett, tasked with trying to stop him, admitted that it is a helpless feeling.

“Try to make his catches tough, make it as tough as you can,” he said. “Not much you can do about a seven-footer shooting jump shots over everyone.”

Nets coach Steve Nash had cautioned before the game about taking the Knicks lightly.

The Nets led 25-19 when the Knicks embarked on a 19-0 run — 10-0 over the final 1:38 of the first quarter and continued on for nine straight to start the second quarter. The Knicks stretched the lead to 17 at the half with 19 assists and just three turnovers.

And they began the second half with the first four points and a 21-point lead. When the Nets countered with a pair of buckets Thibodeau called a quick timeout just 95 seconds into the third quarter.

The Knicks continued to fight with a lineup made up with spare parts, holding on to a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

Three-pointers by Mills and Irving to start the fourth cut the Knicks lead to 82-78, as close as the Nets had been since the opening minutes of the second quarter. Following a pair of Immanuel Quickley free throws, Mills hit another three and a Knicks turnover led to a fast break and a dunk by Durant. Thibodeau called time and after an offensive foul by Quickley, Kessler Edwards tipped in an Irving miss for an 85-84 Nets lead with 10 minutes left.

Three-point field goals by Mills and Irving to start the fourth cut the Knicks’ lead to just 82-78, as close as the Nets had been since the opening minutes of the second quarter. After a pair of Immanuel Quickley free throws, Mills drained another three and a Knicks turnover led to a fast break and a powerful dunk by Durant. Thibodeau called time and after an offensive foul by Quickley, Kessler Edwards tipped in an Irving miss for an 85-84 Nets lead with 10 minutes left.

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