Kyrie Irving didn’t score another 50 points, but he got the happy ending that eluded him in the opener.
Down by three to the crosstown rival Knicks going into the final minute, Irving scored five straight points, including the go-ahead three-pointer, as the Nets scored a 113-109 victory Friday night at Barclays Center.
When he left the Celtics to sign with the Nets in free agency, there were questions about Irving’s leadership lingering from last season. But he took control of the game and pulled the Nets’ fat out of the fire in the final minutes.
The Nets built a 19-point third-quarter lead, and it still was 10 when Irving hit a jumper with 7:41 to play. However, the Nets were scoreless on 11 of their next 12 possessions as the Knicks put together a 15-2 run, including three three-pointers by Wayne Ellington, to grab a 109-106 lead with 3:41 left.
“We started throwing up random shots, and Kyrie brought us into a huddle and calmed us down,” center Jarrett Allen said. “Everything jelled better after that.”
The Nets stopped the Knicks on their final seven possessions. Irving hit a jumper from the top of the key with 59.4 seconds to go and followed with a right-wing three over Knicks rookie RJ Barrett with 21.9 seconds left to restore a 111-109 Nets lead.
The step-back three by Irving was not a designed play but rather relied on the sense of a great player in a clutch moment. “Down the stretch, when you get into possessions like that and it’s a one- or two-point game, a three-pointer really gives you a little more breathing room when you can go up two after they made some really big plays and the crowd’s into it,” Irving said. “I got to my spot. I’m grateful I made it.”
The Knicks had a chance to tie, but Julius Randle lost the ball at the 11.2 mark. Spencer Dinwiddie was fouled with 8.9 seconds left and made both free throws for a four-point cushion before Ellington turned it over at the end.
Reflecting on Irving’s go-ahead three, Barrett said: “Great players make great plays, and that’s what he did tonight. It’s the same shot he hit to win the championship against Golden State [in 2016 with the Cavaliers]. It’s tough. I was right there. Nothing else you could do about that one.”
Irving topped the Nets (1-1) with 26 points and five assists and backup point guard Dinwiddie had 20 points and five assists. Allonzo Trier led the Knicks (0-2) with 22 points, and they got 16 each from Barrett and Kevin Knox. The Knicks shot a phenomenal 68.0 percent from three-point range (17-for-25) to make their second-half comeback possible.
The first Nets-Knicks meeting of the season took on a festive air for the home team, which gave away Irving jerseys as if to troll the Knicks, who lost Irving and Kevin Durant to the Nets in the free-agent sweepstakes.
“I guess it’s supposed to be like a rivalry atmosphere,” Irving said. “I grew up watching the Nets and Knicks play. Now, the Nets are happy in Brooklyn. This makes it a lot more fun to go out there and hear boos and sees the Knicks fans out there. It’s all good.”
Had the Nets lost to their rivals after beating them in the offseason, it would have been a disastrous start to their season of promise. But in the end, Irving was a leader.
“So I just had to bring the guys together and tell them to calm down,” Irving said. “We just had to get three solid possessions offensively and defensively. Down the stretch, I felt like we made some big-time plays . . . and we came out with this win.”