Cam Thomas #24 of the Nets puts up a shot...

Cam Thomas #24 of the Nets puts up a shot during the fourth quarter against Mitchell Robinson #23 of the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

While the talk this week has been centered around the Nets' latest incarnation of a Big 3 when they took the floor at Madison Square Garden, none of the three were in uniform and for much of the night it looked as if the Knicks could have found a better game at Rucker Park or the West 4th Street playground.

But in what has become a familiar script, the lead disappeared and when it was over the Knicks were left with the sort of loss that would seem like rock bottom if the Knicks didn’t seem to top themselves every night. This time, the 28-point lead midway in the fourth quarter— and 18-point lead early in the fourth — was wiped out and the Knicks fell, 111-106, to a barely-recognizable version of their rivals.

For the Knicks it marked an 11-day span in which they had blown leads of at least 20 points three times — to the Lakers, Trail Blazers and now the Nets.

"You get a big lead, you’ve got to play tough with a lead," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You have to understand how to play with a lead, so we haven’t done that."

A fitting conclusion came when the Nets, clinging to a three-point lead, got the ball with 50 seconds left and worked it around until LaMarcus Aldridge missed on a jumper. But Bruce Brown grabbed the rebound as Knicks defenders watched and he fed Patty Mills in the corner for an open three. But Mills misfired, too. But again, the Nets outhustled the Knicks for the loose ball, calling timeout with 16 seconds to play. Cam Thomas then buried a 30-foot three-pointer over Quentin Grimes with 6.8 seconds left, sending the Knicks fans streaming for the exits.

"Holding my breath," Nets coach Steve Nash said of Thomas’s long three. "I wouldn’t have taken that shot."

For the Nets it was a celebration as Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons jumped around with their teammates. For the Knicks it was a third straight loss, and every one painful.

"I wish I had an answer for you, man," Julius Randle said. "I don’t know. Just not closing games out. It’s unfortunate."

The All-Star break comes now for the Knicks and with eight days off it’s hard to imagine, even after an idle trade deadline, they return from this with the same look as they left tonight. With 13 losses in their last 16 games the Knicks fell to 25-34 on the season.

"The thing is all I think about is winning," Thibodeau said. "I don’t care about any other nonsense."

The Nets were playing without Kyrie Irving as he is still sidelined by the city’s vaccination mandate; Durant, still working his way back from an MCL sprain, and newly-acquired Simmons. But that still wasn’t an excuse for just how bad they looked in the first half. While the Knicks were hitting almost everything they threw at the rim the Nets were dreadful, missing 12 of 13 three-point attempts in the opening quarter. But in the second half it all turned.

The Knicks took a 21-point lead into halftime, but the Nets scored eight straight points in 75 seconds, prompting a timeout by Thibodeau with the lead cut to 65-52. In that quick run Mitchell Robinson was hit with his fourth foul and he went to the bench.

James Johnson scored inside on a Seth Curry feed and the lead was down to single digits, 71-62, prompting another timeout from Thibodeau with 6:14 left in the third quarter. He finally went to his bench — to retrieve Robinson even with the foul trouble — and for a jump-start from Immanuel Quickley, who had been struggling as badly as anyone on the team of late.

Quickley, who was 4-for-29 from three over his last seven games, hit two in the first half and delivered on a pair of threes to help the Knicks extend the lead back to 16, 87-71. Quickley started the fourth quarter with a lob to Robinson for a dunk and the Knicks seemed safely perched 18 points ahead again. But the Nets kept coming in the fourth, cutting the lead to five with Johnson's three-point play. Thomas cut the lead to three with a foul-line jumper and the nerves were clearly beginning to shake.

Alec Burks misfired on a short jumper and Thomas delivered a baseline jumper, tying the score at 97-97 with 4:35 left. Evan Fournier missed on a three and Thomas pulled up for a jumper again, giving the Nets their first lead of the game. Randle finally connected on a fadeaway jumper with 3:32 left to snap the Nets' run at 15-0 and even the score.

Randle drove the left side, banking in a shot over LaMarcus Aldridge, but another Curry three gave the Nets the lead again. Aldridge then followed with dunk off a miss for a three-point Brooklyn lead.

Quickley drove the lane and cut the deficit to one but Aldridge answered again, hitting a foul line jumper with 56.6 seconds left and the chants of, "Brooklyn" began to echo through the Garden.