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Nets squeak by Knicks in a battle of the boroughs, 112-110

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New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

What. A. Game.

The Brooklyn Nets improved to 15-6 on the season after a nailbiter against the crosstown rival New York Knicks. After a tough loss against the Phoenix Suns, the Nets rebounded in a big way on Tuesday night and have won five of their last six games. With the victory, Brooklyn has won four straight against New York dating back to last season, and the Nets now have a 102-101 all-time lead in the head-to-head matchup with the Knicks dating back to 1976.

“I mean, obviously, on the one hand, it felt it was closer than it needed to be. On the other end, we found a way,” said Steve Nash after the game. “We got some stops, got some rebounds, and made plays.”

James Harden led the way with 34 points on 11-of-20 shooting, while also tacking on 10 rebounds and eight assists. The Beard did much of his damage in the first half with 28 points.

“Yeah, good start,” said Kevin Durant about Harden’s performance. “When he starts the game off scoring the basketball, that just opens it up for everybody. Tonight was just one of those nights for him, and then you see in the second half it was able to get the rest of the team going, so he put together a great game tonight.”

Harden’s co-star, the aforementioned KD, carried the Nets home by scoring 11 points down the stretch even amidst a performance that wasn’t one of his best, shooting 9-of-23 from the field.

“Kevin, obviously, one of them ones. He’s gonna get going eventually, but just in an attack mode,” said Harden after the game.

Other than the stars, rookie Cam Thomas had some nice moments off the bench, canning a pair of catch-and-shoot threes and boxing out for 50/50 rebounds en route to a very solid 12-point, 2-assist, and 1-rebound stat line.

“I’m just hooping for real. Whatever shot is given some to me, I’ll take it. Today it was two catch-and-shoots and, like, a few off the dribble. So just playing basketball, reading the game,” said Thomas. “As long as I read the game properly, I’ll be fine.”

As Pooch points out...

The Knicks, meanwhile, were led by the resurgent Julius Randle, who dropped 24 points in a raucous Barclays Center. Alec Burks also filled in nicely with 25 points of his own after usurping the point-guard position from Kemba Walker, who received his first DNP of the season.

Harden decided it was go-time to kick the TNT headliner off, scoring 15 first-quarter points. He got himself going with a transition dunk, but more importantly, netted a pair of stepback threes. In his previous seven games, Harden was just 13-of-50 (26 percent) from deep, so again, that was very important. With the threat of Harden’s jumper, the Nets point guard was able to knife into the lane and kick to the corner to Thomas. And this got the rook going. Thomas canned a second catch-and-shoot look to end the quarter to finish with 8 first-quarter points. Brooklyn led after the first 12 minutes, 33-28.

Harden continued his scoring avalanche in the second quarter, boosting his first-half total to 28 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 3-of-4 from deep, and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. Those are All-Star caliber numbers for any player at the end of the night; Harden did all of this in 18 minutes. The Knicks, meanwhile, picked up the slack behind Randle, who dropped eight points in the second period. New York’s bench continued to impress as Derrick Rose tacked on 12 points in the half, while Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin contributed with energizing moments as well.

After a slow 1-for-4 start to the game, Patty Mills erupted to start the third quarter with two 3-pointers and two steals. Then, Harden did this...

The very next play, Harden tossed an absurd full-court bounce pass to ignite a Brooklyn fast break, starting the third quarter strong on a 14-0 run.

But those plucky Knicks punched back with an 11-2 run of their own. Evan Fournier hit a huge corner three off a Randle drive-and-kick to bring the score within seven with a minute to spare. The very next play, those two connected again for yet another trey-ball. After Randle nailed a fadeaway face-up jumper to close the quarter, the Knicks were down just 88-84 after a 16-point deficit.

The final period was a back-and-forth affair. There were seven lead changes in the fourth. Kevin Durant hit a massive stepback jumper to put the Nets up 1 with three minutes left. Then, Randle pierced the paint, kicked to Derrick Rose, who made the extra pass for an Alec Burks 3-point jumper and once again, it was a game. Mills tied the score at 105 apiece for a layup. Kevin Durant hit yet another clutch pull-up jump shot to put the Nets up 2 and then hit two free throws to score 11 of the Nets’ final 15 points.

The Nets had a brief scare in the final 30 seconds of the game. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau drew up a gorgeous out-of-bounds set in which sharpshooter Evan Fournier nailed a three to tie the game at 110 apiece — the Nets, meanwhile, botched their switching.

On the other end, the Knicks blitzed Kevin Durant to get the ball out of his hands, and Brooklyn was bailed out by a silly foul from Mitchell Robinson on James Johnson. Johnson, a 30 percent (not a typo) free-throw shooter this season, surprisingly made both foul shots and New York’s full-court heave was unsuccessful to secure the Nets 112-110 victory.

The Film Room

Normally, we’d wax poetic about James Harden’s complete control of the game or Kevin Durant’s omnipresent clutchness. But can we talk about Brooklyn’s final offensive possession of the game? Because... what the heck was that?

To start, Kevin Durant, fresh off scoring 11 of Brooklyn’s last 13 points, dribbled down the clock with the goal of dropping in a signature dagger bucket.

Notice the lineup and spacing (or lack thereof) that Durant is sharing the floor with. The Nets are playing in a 1-4 flat alignment, with one player dribbling up top (hello, KD) and four players scattered across the baseline.

Patty Mills is stashed in the right corner, an area where he shoots 43.5 percent for the season. James Harden is located in the opposite corner as a spot-up guy, which is not exactly optimal usage given his, um, unwillingness to let it fly off the catch. LaMarcus Aldridge is located in the dunker spot as (I guess?) a ground-bound lob threat, and for some reason, James Johnson is a) on the floor in the final seconds of the game, and b) in the opposite dunker spot doing basically nothing. Just weird.

With an easy player to help off of, Derrick Rose, originally “guarding” James Johnson, blitzes Kevin Durant to force the ball out of his hands.

The other four Nets, meanwhile, remain motionless until James Johnson of all people makes himself available by flashing to about the elbow to give Durant an outlet. Not really much of a threat outside of 3 feet, Johnson drives headlong into the defense, and that’s where Mitchell Robinson commits a really foolish foul to send the 34-year-old to the line. Johnson, a career 68 percent free-throw shooter, made the Knicks pay for their carelessness with two clutch free-throws.

Here’s the whole possession in video format:

Sure, the Nets are going to live with the results just fine, but multiple questions should arise from this specific play. Why was James Johnson, a player with limited offensive value, on the floor in a tie game with seconds to spare? Can we instead see some Cam Thomas? And why were the Nets so unprepared for the Knicks to blitz — oh, I don’t know — the best freaking player on the planet? How did the Nets fail to draw up any secondary action with the game on the line?

Just really puzzling stuff. Whatever, on to the next.

Monster crowd

Not only was the atmosphere at Barclays Center the best since Game 7 of the Bucks series, it was best crowd ever at the Brooklyn arena. The Nets drew 18,081 fans, 10 more than the previous record, set Saturday vs. the Suns. The crowd included nearly 350 standing room.

Joe Tsai also tweeted out that it was the highest grossing night ever. We particularly like the context of the tweet...

The Nets are now 14th in attendance at 16,790 and 11th in percentage of capacity sold, at 94.7 percent.

Milestone Watch

James Harden became only the fourth player in NBA history to make 2,500 3-pointers, marking the occasion with a step back three. He joins Ray Allen, Steph Curry and Reggie Miller.

While Harden ranks No. 4 in threes made, teammate Joe Harris is in same position in 3-point percentage all-time at 43.9 percent.

Speaking of Reggie Miller

Before the game, Reggie Miller now a TNT analyst spoke with James Harden who had a miserable 4-of-15 shooting, seven-turnover game vs. the Suns Saturday. Harden had also spoken about how in the absence of Kyrie Irving he was having difficulties figuring out his role.

So, Miller talked with Harden before the game . “He came over and I was like, you do know you’re James Harden… right?” Miller said, recounting the meeting. “What do you mean you don’t know when to score and when to pass? You never had this problem in Houston?”

Harden admitted the pep talk worked.

“Yeah, it was definitely that. Reggie is the one that got me going. He’s got me going for sure,” he said post-game. “But yeah, it was just ultimate confidence, the best-player-in-the-league type of mindset. That was motivation before the game, something I needed.”

Whatever Miller said worked.

The Most Kevin Durant quote ever

Kevin Durant is averaging 36.5 minutes a game. That’s 2.5 more minutes than he logged last season, and his most since 2015-16 when he was just 27-years-old with two healthy Achilles’ tendons as Brian Lewis put it.

Post-Game, KD was asked about all those minutes stacking up and here’s the quote...

“My basketball life is not that long so I wanna get the most out of it....I’m sure for the rest of the season I’m gonna try to sneak some of those 40 plus minute games in. Cause s—t, I like being out there.”

Cam Thomas not impressed

The continuing back-and-forth between Cam Thomas and his two superstar teammates took another last night. Thomas, it turns out, was not impressed by James Harden’s monster putback,

Waiting for a response that you know will come.

What’s next

The Nets get back to business and look to make it 6 victories in their last 7 games against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday at the Barclays Center (or “Clays” as KD likes to call it). The game tips off at 7:30 EST with coverage on the YES Network.

For a different perspective, head over to our Timberwolves sister site, Canis Hoopus, which does an incredible job covering the exciting young squad from Minnesota.