James Harden #13 of the Nets reacts after a basjet...

James Harden #13 of the Nets reacts after a basjet during the third quarter as Mitchell Robinson #23 and Alec Burks #18 of the Knicks look on at Barclays Center on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The crowd of 18,081 that witnessed the Nets blow a 16-point third-quarter lead and withstand 10 fourth-quarter lead changes to pull out a 112-110 win over the crosstown rival Knicks was the largest in the nine-year history of Barclays Center. But per usual, there were so many Knicks fans in the building that it felt like anything but a "home" game.

In the opening period when Nets star James Harden went to the foul line, he was serenaded by a crescendo of boos. The chants of "MVP" for the Nets’ Kevin Durant were offset by similar chants for Knicks star Julius Randle. Even budding Knicks benchwarmer Obi Toppin heard his name chanted after a couple of thunderous dunk shots.

That’s why it was so important from a Nets perspective to not give away a game the first-place team in the Eastern Conference should have won more handily. "On the one hand, I thought it was closer than it needed to be," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "On the other hand, we found a way. We got some stops, got some rebounds and made some plays."

This is Nash’s second season as coach, and he quickly has come to understand there are certain historical factors that define the rivalry beyond the matchup on paper, especially since the Nets (15-6) moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn.

"We know it’s going to be a pro-Knicks crowd," Nash said. "The Knicks have been around for 75 years. We understand that, so it’s an opportunity for our team to rise to the challenge and defend our home court.

"I thought the atmosphere was great. It felt like, I don’t know, a barnburner, a big high school game or a big college game. It was a great atmosphere."

Harden got off to an incredible start, scoring 28 of his 34 points in the first half, but the Nets trailed 61-60 at the break. They dug down on defense to open the third period, and built their 16-point lead. But the Knicks closed within four at the end of the period to set up a wild fourth-quarter that had the 10 lead changes plus two ties.

Durant struggled with his shooting against the tough defenses Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau designed, scoring his 27 points on 9-for-23 shooting form the field. But when the Nets had to have it, Durant delivered 10 of their final 15 points before making the right play at the end by passing up what would have been a deep, contested three to feed James Johnson, who got fouled driving to the basket and made both shots for the win with 2.2 seconds left.

Rookie Cam Thomas was on the bench, but it was a great lesson to see how Durant handled the big moment. "They started doubling KD, so he made the right play, gave it up to James, and he got fouled and made two free throws for us and sealed the deal," Thomas said.

"Battle of the boroughs, so you know everybody was hyped up, into it, especially with how close it was at the end. It was just a great atmosphere to play in."

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