Nets chip away at lopsided rivalry with Knicks
Until recently, the Knicks-Nets rivalry has been as lopsided as it gets.
The Knicks have the World’s Most Famous Arena and a fan base so loyal and passionate for generations that it almost doesn’t matter how good the product is.
The Nets have bounced from Long Island to New Jersey to Brooklyn. Despite having some really good teams with Jason Kidd, they struggled to lure fans to the Meadowlands. In their early Brooklyn years, most of their fan base seemed to be made of contrarians, the curious and those who finally got fed up with the cost, financial and emotional, of being a Knicks fan.
This all goes to say that the Knicks fans own the city and until recently didn’t pay all that much attention to what was going on across town — whether crosstown meant the other side of the Hudson or East River.
Then came the Kevin Durant snub. For the first time ever, someone important chose the Nets over the Knicks. And it was painful.
With Saturday night’s 122-115 win over the Knicks at Barclays Center, the Nets have won nine straight against the Knicks, their longest winning streak over any club. Since Durant and Kyrie Irving joined the Nets, the Nets are 11-2 against the Knicks with both the losses coming when neither Irving nor Durant played.
Still, Knicks fans had some pretty big reasons to feel good about themselves heading into Saturday’s game. Leading the list is that despite having two of the top 10 offensive players in Durant and Irving, the Nets have not gotten past the second round of the playoffs and have made as many headlines off the court as they have on it.
“For once, it’s cool not to be the most dysfunctional team on the court,” said Long Beach’s Chris Shammas, a Knicks season-ticket holder who was at Saturday’s game. “Sure, I like superstars. Sure, it was bad when KD picked the Nets. But now, I wouldn’t want them to be here. All the sideshows with Kyrie? It’s a circus over there.”
Not only have the Nets contended with multiple injuries, but Irving was a part-time player last season because of his refusal to get the COVID vaccine and was suspended for eight games earlier this season for linking to an antisemitic movie on his social media accounts.
Until recently, the Knicks were the most circus-like of the two clubs and for sure the team still has some clown shoe moments. Yet, the Knicks team that lost to the Nets on Saturday has made some impressive steps forward this season and has a real floor captain in Jalen Brunson. The team is also positioned to make the playoffs, which apparently is a good thing since Madison Square Garden chairman and CEO James Dolan recently said publicly that he expects them to.
Nothing could be better for these two teams, rivalry-wise, if they were to actually meet in the postseason. The two teams have played three times in the postseason over the years with the most recent being in 2004, when the Knicks were swept by Kidd’s Nets.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who was a Knicks assistant coach when the two teams played in 2004, thinks another playoff series would go a long way in making the competition between the two teams more of a rivalry.
“I think from a proximity standpoint, you can say that,” Thibodeau said when asked if the two clubs were rivals. “Probably \[it will take\] a playoff series, something like that. Usually, you need both teams to be really good. And hopefully, we can get there.”
Saturday, the Knicks showed they aren’t quite there as they followed big wins over Cleveland and Boston with a loss to a team that was missing both Durant and Ben Simmons. The Nets landed shot after shot and Irving scored 20 points in the fourth quarter.
“For me, I love beating the Knicks and playing against them,” said Irving, who was instrumental in Durant coming to the Nets, the team he grew up watching.
Irving and his fourth quarter may lead off “SportsCenter” and the Nets are a big story nationally. The Knicks, for now, will have to be content with being the big story in New York.