Nets handle Knicks without James Harden, Kyrie Irving

The Nets stole the imagination of the NBA and they even stole Wednesday’s national televised game against the Knicks.

Imagine when their whole awesome team – not just Kevin Durant – shows up at the Garden next time around.

Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks couldn’t even defend Brooklyn Lite. The Nets became the Brooklyn Nine after making a successful four-team trade to add a third superstar to James Harden, and they’ve consistently outsmarted the Knicks, 116-109, in the Empty Garden.

Of course, Durant was still on the pitch. In his first game against the Knicks since rejecting them as a free agent in July 2019, he tallied 26 points in 30 minutes – 12 of them in the third quarter. Durant had 10 of 18 shots, including 3 of 5 with 3 points.

“We want to finish the second half of the game in a row, especially with a team that is right in front of us,” Durant said. “And we know what this rivalry looks like, and we know the intensity with which this team is playing. We really wanted this game tonight, and everyone played like that. ”

Kevin Durant tries a dunk in the Nets' 116-109 win over the Knicks.
Kevin Durant tries a dunk in the Nets’ 116-109 win over the Knicks.
NBAE via Getty Images

The garden was not totally empty. Knicks owner James Dolan, who no longer sits in his base seat next to the team bench during this pandemic season, has seen the mess from the 100th tier second row on center court. He must have stung Dolan after watching Durant’s pull-up jumpers and seeing his club lose their fourth in a row to fall to 5-7.

While the offense was the Knicks’ Achilles heel, this time it was the defense that let Thibodeau down.

“Disappointed that we were able to play better defensively, yes, but more determined to get it right,” said Thibodeau. “I like the fight we showed at the end, but it was too late. We entered too big a hole. We have to get back to work. Sometimes you go through stretches where you don’t get a chance to train too much, so I think the practice would be good for us.

Harden will arrive soon, but the Nets were without Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) and the players they traded – Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs.

As the Nets turned Brooklyn into a celebrity paradise, Knicks power forward Julius Randle continued to play like one. He beat the Nets for 30 points and five assists, but didn’t have enough. The collapse RJ Barrett, who had no basket in the first period and missed his first six shots, came too late and finished with 20 points.

Durant punctuated a late 15-2 inning with a steal and a quick break in the last minute of the second quarter to give the Nets a 61-45 lead at halftime. He scored on the game’s first possession and was graceful at the Garden in the Nets in a white uniform.

Thibodeau is not surprised that Durant has shown no decline since recovering from his Achilles tendon injury.

“He’s going to overcome whatever is in front of him,” said Thibodeau. “He’s a gym rat. He’s a playmaker. He’s a great student of the game. And he has an incredible skill set. And the underestimated part is his altruism, his willingness to move on. He’s an all-time great, that’s for sure. So that doesn’t surprise me.

Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley, a compatriot from Maryland, seemed a little impressed with Durant.

“Probably the greatest basketball player I have ever faced,” said Quickley, who managed to come out of his crisis to score 19 points in 22 minutes in a bright Knicks spot. “He took a shot at me and it was like a video game. I was right there and he just emptied everything clean. And I just went out on the pitch when we were on offense and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that was crazy. “ He’s a great player and he’s from Maryland, so I’m just glad he’s playing. ”

The under-equipped Nets played a clean game, committing only one turnover in the first half. Sniper Joe Harris scored 15 points, hitting three 3 points. Nets goalie Bruce Brown, with 15 points and 14 rebounds, looked much more efficient and faster than Barrett. On one play, he edged the Knicks defense for a quick layup.

To make matters worse, Nets second-round pick power forward Reggie Perry was called up and scored 11 points on 5 of 7 shots.

Perry, of Mississippi state, was taken 57th in the November draft. The Knicks could have had the 33rd pick, but traded it in a complex deal for a 2023 second round because they felt there was no place on their roster.

Led by 18 with 3:23 to go and Durant on the pin, the Knicks belatedly tried to make the final score more competitive than it actually was.

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