It was admirable that the Knicks viewed Wednesday’s Nets contest as a big game and a big potential win as they played rope. Obi Toppin called it a “must have” win, and they built a 21-point lead early in the third quarter.
But the Nets of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Seth Curry wouldn’t let this be a Knicks night, wouldn’t let them get a nice going-away gift before Tom Thibodeau’s club shut everything down on Sunday.
The Nets, outscored by 2¹/₂ quarters, blasted the Knicks in the final 16 minutes of the game and racked up a double-digit win, 110-98.
For a change, there were plenty of Nets fans inside “the mecca” who made noise as Durant finished with a triple-double, Irving had 24 points and Curry and Patty Mills had a pair of 15-point nights.
The Knicks (35-45) are out of the postseason and the Nets, for all their great talent, are just on the sidelines.
But they still reminded everyone what superstars can accomplish and woke up in time to knock out the starless Knicks, whose best player, RJ Barrett, still struggles to shoot from distance and close decisively.
“That helps,” Thobdeau said, laughing when asked if the Nets had two superstars in a tight fourth quarter. “But I love our young guys. I love what they are doing and they are getting better and better.
“Hey, look, those guys over there were once young too. It is part of this league. Try and failure. Kyrie, Kevin, add Patty and Curry, they get it through experience. The more we analyze it, the better we will do.”
Barrett has 23 points, but it was a messy 23 as he shot 7-for-27, 2-for-11 from 3-point range. The Knicks added two points in the last five minutes.
“It’s fun going up against them, but really disappointed, really upset,” Barrett said. “I felt like we should have had that one.”
With 10:30 remaining, Irving stole it from Alec Burks, got ahead of Durant for an easy dunk to close out 84-83, and it was clearly a matter of time before owner James Dolan had to live with an 0- 4 record against rivals from Cross-the-East River.
Durant hit two open 3-pointers during the comeback and might as well have thrown a pie in Dolan’s face as the Knicks owner sat in his usual baseline seat.
The Knicks still make the biggest headlines in New York, though not nationally. The Knicks’ starters dwindle after Sunday’s final game against Toronto at the Garden. The Knicks close their doors and prepare for the lottery on May 17.
Knicks president Leon Rose faces a pivotal offseason that will determine whether he’s qualified to remain in his job. There isn’t an NBA team that would have handed over the keys to Rose the way Dolan did two years ago.
As the Nets move into the postseason still hopeful, the Knicks enter the offseason hoping for an unlikely summer dip.
The Big Bang theory is that this could be the off season. Donovan Mitchell demands a trade to the Knicks to meet with his former CAA agent (Rose) and assistant coach Johnnie Bryant. Rose has her fingers crossed.
Or in a riskier proposition, the Pelicans and Zion Williamson, also represented by CAA, realize theirs is a doomed marriage. Perhaps New Orleans will buy him if it’s clear that Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin won’t offer him a maximum rookie contract extension in October, since he’s been injured since his summer league opener against the Knicks.
And better yet, maybe Durant, if Brooklyn bounces out of the play-in, finally realizes he’s on the wrong side of the East River and made a mistake following Irving in 2019. But don’t count on it. He loves beating the Knicks and hasn’t lost to them since 2013.
“We know how much Knicks fans don’t like us,” Durant said. “Especially now in this era, without us picking the Knicks, Kyrie and myself. It definitely adds something to the rivalry no matter who is on the team. If we have more and more animosity between the fan bases, it’s only good for the game.”
Knicks fans will cling to Mitchell and Zion fantasies after this failed season that can’t end soon enough. The Nets will take the stage after Sunday, and Irving’s vaccination status, as atrocious as the entire episode was, can be set aside.
The Knicks were all vaccinated going into training camp and never had a problem with the city government. But all that compliance didn’t get them past Sunday or a win this season against Brooklyn.