Let’s admit it: The Nets-Knicks rivalry has long been the lamest sports rivalry in New York.
This is no Islanders-Rangers. No Yankees-Mets. No Giants-Jets. Not even close.
The Knicks-Nets rivalry is less Pepsi-Coke and more Amazon-corner bodega.
One fan base isn’t clearly better than the other, just a whole lot bigger and more arrogant. Even when the Nets have been a clearly superior team — say last season, when they made the playoffs and the Knicks had a league-low 17 wins — the Nets have had trouble drawing and the Knicks regularly have been among the league’s top 10 teams in attendance.
Yes, New York is a Knicks town. But Kyrie Irving doesn’t think it always has to be. And he certainly didn’t play as if it was Friday night.
Irving hit a clutch three-pointer with 21.0 seconds left to help lift the Nets to a 113-109 victory over their crosstown rivals. It was the second straight jaw-dropping game from Irving, who scored 50 points in the Nets’ season-opening overtime loss to the Timberwolves on Wednesday night. He had 26 points this time.
“I love this!” he shouted at the crowd after the game. “This is our home! This is our home!”
Irving is going all-out to stoke the fire between the two New York teams. The day after dropping 50 points on the Minnesota Timberwolves, Irving caused jaws to drop across the Tri-State area when he had the temerity to declare on Thursday that the Nets were out to “take over” the city while they wait for teammate Kevin Durant to come back from injury.
“We got a lot, a lot of goals to accomplish this season,” Irving said in a short video captured on Twitter. “The team is excited. Obviously we know in the months to follow, we got a sleeping, sleeping monster that’s on our team right there.
“So for real, that’s my best friend and I want to send good health to him. But for the time being, we’re going to take over the whole entire city. It’s about us.”
For those of you who think this can’t happen, you should ask yourself these questions:
Did you really think it was possible that the Nets would whip the Knicks during the summer, landing Irving and Durant, the two free agents they had coveted all season?
Did you ever think that superstar players would rather call Barclays Center home than Madison Square Garden, aka the World’s Most Famous Arena?
And finally, did you ever expect after choosing the Nets over the Knicks in the offseason, that Irving was going to be quietly deferential to them in the regular season?
There was nothing deferential about the Nets’ win over the Knicks. They took a not-so-subtle jab at their crosstown rivals by giving away 10,000 Irving jerseys at the game. Nets fans cheered “We have KD! We have Kyrie!”
Yes, there were a number of Knicks fans at the game, including Knicks fan extraordinaire Spike Lee. But for the first time in recent memory, Nets fans outnumbered Knicks fans at the arena.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson downplayed any notion that the Nets have designs on making the town their own, though he would love to see Knicks-Nets become a better rivalry.
“We hope we can turn this into a real exciting rivalry in the future,” he said. “I’ve always said I want both teams to be really good. I think that would be great for all of us. For the fans, for New York, we both have a long way to go to get there, but we are trying.”
No one is trying harder than Irving.