The Nets had everything to play for Wednesday night, every reason to want to steam roll an inferior Knicks team.
Instead, they messed around for two plus quarters, trailed by as many as 21 points in the third before the Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant show took over and pushed the Nets to a much-needed 110-98 win.
With the win, the Nets remain in the hunt for the 7th seed in the East and can secure the spot and a home play-in game by winning their final two games against Cleveland and Indiana. They also reminded every Knick fan in attendance what they missed out on when their team didn’t sign them three years ago.
Durant finished the game with a triple-double, scoring 32 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Irving added 24 points.
There was a moment where you kind of knew the Nets were going pull this one out. With 10:34 left, Kyrie Irving swiped the ball from Alec Burks, drove the length of the court and fed Kevin Durant for the dunk. Durant then ran the length of press row pointing his fingers at the crowd.
The game was the first time Irving and Durant have played together at Madison Square Garden. It’s been nearly three seasons since the summer of 2019 when Durant and Irving shocked the basketball world by deciding to team up in New York on the Nets, not the Knicks.
This is the 11th meeting since that decision. COVID-19, various injuries and Irving’s unvaccinated status kept the two from playing together in the arena they chose not to call home.
Three years is a long time, but Durant says he still hears it from Knicks fans. “We know how much Knicks fans don’t like us,” Durant said. “Especially now this era, with us not choosing the Knicks me and Kyrie. It definitely adds something to the rivalry no matter who is on the team. I mean imagine the tweets I’ve been getting since I decided to come to the Nets. Knicks fans are still [upset].”
Added Irving: “It’s all in good fun. I don’t’ think we regret our decision.”
Knicks fans also claim to have moved on. Still, given what they’ve moved on to hasn’t been all that great, it had to be a painful reminder to see how the great players they missed out on can take over a game.
One thing that can be said for sure: It’s been a rough season for both teams.
Right now, of course, you would have to say the Knicks have had the more disappointing run. Last season’s fourth-place finish may have been fool’s gold, but no one expected the Knicks to have a year as bad as they’ve had. No one expected Julius Randle to go from a likable All Star, to a guy who isn’t playing anymore this season and is feuding with the fans.
Randle, of course, was the consolation prize Knicks fans got when Durant and Kawhi Leonard didn’t return your calls. And, of course, it has got to be painful to see Durant and Irving playing a big game for another team on your floor.
At the same time, it’s also been painfully hard to root for the Nets at times, considering how they have created so many of their own problems. (See Irving, Eric Adams, vaccine).
At best, the Nets look unbeatable, a team that can pound contenders like the 76ers and Heat into submission. At their worst? They are one of the poorest defensive teams ever to consider themselves a contender and for the most part they look completely lost when Durant isn’t in the lineup. (They are 8-19 without him.)
The reality of where the Nets are — the reality of needing to run the table to give themselves a good position in the play-in — is so far from what was expected from this team at the start of the season that it’s hard not to rate them high on the disappointment index.
If the Nets can come together down the stretch and get themselves into the playoffs, they are capable of beating anyone in the Eastern Conference.
They are also capable of losing to anyone. Stay tuned.