If you must go on a seven-game road trip that probably will determine the fate of your season, you might as well start it with all the comforts of home. That is exactly the way it worked out for the Knicks, who treated the Nets’ court as if it were their own living room and, for a change, looked comfortable with a lead, too.
“It’s almost like playing at home,” Kristaps Porzingis said Monday afternoon after the Knicks recovered from a demoralizing ending the previous day with a strong finishing kick, blitzing the Nets in the fourth quarter for a 119-104 victory.
The winners basically gave themselves quite a send-off for six more games much farther away from Madison Square Garden, earning a chant of “Let’s Go Knicks” from many in the Barclays Center sellout crowd of 17,732 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Obviously, the court is different, but the fans, they’re pretty amazing. It feels like we’re playing at home. It was a good atmosphere today,” said Porzingis, who scored 26 points as the Knicks took the sting out of remembering how they had blown a 19-point lead and lost to the Pelicans in overtime at the Garden on Sunday afternoon.
The Nets were coming off a spirited effort in Washington on Saturday, when they recovered from a 23-point deficit to force overtime, and seemed headed toward another comeback. When DeMarre Carroll (22 points) made a jump shot at the third-quarter buzzer, they were within two after having trailed by 14 earlier in the period. But ultimately, they fell short. That was true literally because the Knicks’ frontcourt consistently kept the Nets from attacking the basket with much confidence or effectiveness.
“I thought they did a great job waiting for us at the rim on our drives,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “But we do have to do a better job of kicking it out. If they have two guys waiting for us at the rim, we have to make that extra pass.”
Then again, it was not all a matter of size. “A lot of it was [Michael] Beasley,” Atkinson said. “I guess he’s a strong guy but he’s no 7-footer, so we should be able to match up with them, even when we go quote-unquote small.’”
Beasley had the Knicks contingent roaring as he scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play that capped an 11-0 period-opening run that effectively ended the game. “We rallied up,” Beasley said. “They had 39 points in the third quarter, which is unacceptable. So Coach had a few words with us and we responded.”
The Knicks, who had lost 10 of their last 12, have won all three games against the Nets this season. Atkinson had said before the game that he relishes the thought of an all-New York City playoff series, adding, “I think we’re both desperate to get there. I think we’re climbing, we’re clawing.”
But the standings indicate that prospect is a long way off. Nets guard Caris LeVert said, “We’ve just got to play harder as a team and do better on the defensive glass. I feel like we did good for three quarters. The fourth quarter, we kind of let up.”
Nothing about this was as memorable as the Trent Tucker Game — clinched with Tucker’s three-pointer with a tenth of a second left on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1990 — but Porzingis pointed out that it did have its share of spectacular plays, mostly blocks and dunks. He insists it always is that way when the Knicks play the Nets. “I don’t know, it’s just fun to watch,” he said.
With the Garden hosting the Grammy Awards on Jan. 28, the schedule got jammed up this week and the Knicks did not play at home on the King national holiday for the first time since 1986. But they gave themselves a good start to their road trip.
“I don’t know,” Enes Kanter said with a smile, “if it counts as a road game.”