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‘Who You Gonna Call?’ ... Players play, but stars star

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New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Two games. Both down to the wire. Two games where Kyrie Irving has seemed to hit every big shot – but one. The value of having one of the greatest closers in basketball.

Period.

On Friday night against the Knicks, the Nets came out blazing, building a lead that reached as much as 19. However, the Knicks stormed back, ultimately taking the lead in the fourth quarter.

Based on boos, cheers and fan attire, it looked like a 65/35 Nets edge, but the change of fortune rejuvenated those Knicks fans in the crowd and they made their voices heard as the forces from Manhattan looked as if they might steal a game in enemy territory.

Then Kyrie Irving checked back in to close the game. He was shooting just 5-of-15 from the field, struggling for most of the night and really only finding success at the free throw line.

Finally, with the Nets trailing by four an a minute left, the great closer took matters into his own hands. He shook Kevin Knox for a 21-foot pull-up to bring the Nets within one. Everyone was impressed, but at least one Net, Kevin Durant, was not surprised.

After a defensive stop and the crowd fully engaged, whether in black-and-whire, or orange-and-blue, Irving sized up Knicks rookie (and fellow Dukie) R.J. Barrett and went to his patented step-back right 3-pointer to give the Nets a 111-109 lead with 22 seconds left.

The shot was nearly identical to his game-winner in the Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals win over Golden State as Barrett noted postgame.

“It’s the same shot he hit to win the championship against Golden State,” Barrett said. “Man, it’s tough. I was right there. There’s nothing else you can do about that one.”

Barrett is right. Against the league’s best closers, there’s very little you can do to stop them. You can only hope to contain them. Great offense will beat great defense any day.

“That was a heck of a step-back he hit on the right side. It was some shot. Yeah, happy for him. I thought he played really well again, really well,” said Kenny Atkinson.

Irving capped off his first win as a Net with 26 points and five assists and he has scored a whopping 76 points through two games. For those too lazy to do the long division, that’s 38 points a game. Despite shooting just 8-of-19 from the field and 2-of-8 from three, his nine fourth quarter points and personal 5-0 to close the game magnified the big difference between the Nets and their crosstown rivals.

As we noted at the time...

Through just two games, Kyrie Irving has already become a fan favorite. The moment doesn’t faze him. He has been there, done that. He wants the big shot; he craves it. And he almost always comes through.

With one of the greatest closers in the league now residing in Brooklyn (okay, West Orange), plus another watching his good friend from the bench, Nets fans should be confident that the team will be able to pull out any game that’s hanging in the balance. It’s not just the difference between the Nets and Knicks, it should be the difference between a good team and a great one.

Players play, stars star. The Kyrie/KD ride is just getting started, and boy is it spectacular.