The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks entered the Barclays Center on Wednesday night worn down from their time out West. The Nets went a disappointing 1-and-4 away from home, losing steam as the trip progressed, missing three back-court contributors. The Knicks went a more acceptable 2-and-2, but didn’t have big men Mitchell Robinson and Jericho Sims for Wednesday's matchup.
Despite each team’s wear and tear, both returning to the East Coast on red-eye flights after Monday games, their matchup was sure to have its usual juice. The last New York center standing, Isaiah Hartenstein, did his part as an instigator: “I mean, most of the time we go to Barclays, it’s mostly Knicks fans. So I don’t know if it’s really a rivalry at this point.”
Jacque Vaughn cited the Villanova connection between Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson/Josh Hart/Donte DiVincenzo as a personal twist to the crosstown matchup, but added that the rivalry mostly exists among those players. The respective organizations are single-minded, focused on their own success.
Said Vaughn in pregame: “For us, we’re trying to get a win tonight. We’re .500, 13-and-13. Road trip wasn’t the way we wanted it to be. Can we get back on the winning side?”
The answer was a resounding no. The Nets opened the game soft and slow, and largely played that way for the rest of the night, fighting an uphill battle that never felt like it’d end in a win. The result? A blow-out on their home floor, and a relaxing win for the cross-town Knicks, who dismissed notions of a rivalry before the game and proved as much on the court.
Final Score: New York Knicks 121, Brooklyn Nets 102.
The Brooklyn Nets returned home from their long vacation only to find their place getting robbed. The Knicks opened the first quarter with a clear plan of attack, hellbent on running the Nets out of their own gym in transition. The visitors looked anything but gassed, scoring ten fast-break points in the first quarter alone.
Brooklyn’s half-court defense was nothing to scoff at, but it hardly mattered with the Knicks beating them down the hardwood over and over again:
Just awful transition defense from BKN here. Cam Thomas falls asleep: pic.twitter.com/fQEHQtQN3Y— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 21, 2023
Vaughn called the Knicks “a more half-court team than anything, so for them to be able to establish themselves early in the game, that wasn’t a good sign for us. It wasn’t a good sign for our concentration level and we paid for it.”
Cam Johnson agreed: “They had some guys that just kind of took off to combat our crashing for offensive rebounds. In those situations, man, we either gotta get the offensive rebound or not let them score in transition or just get back and mark those guys...I think they scored in transition too much.”
Meanwhile, Mikal Bridges did nothing to erase memories of his offensive struggles from the road trip, turning in an 0-for-7 performance from the field in the first half. He scored two free-throws, but earned a technical foul in the process after inadvertently elbowing Hartenstein in the face:
Mikal Bridges gets a dead-ball technical for elbowing Isaiah Hartenstein, causing a bloody lip. Hm: pic.twitter.com/h3YOYS4DHe— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 21, 2023
Bridges couldn't do anything right to begin Wednesday night, and his teammates weren't much sharper. They started 1-of-8 from 3-point land, and their 32-20 deficit at the end of the first quarter felt, somehow, like a light punishment.
Vaughn took responsibility for yet another slow start out of the gates: “It is really on me to take a closer look if there is a lineup change that needs to be had to get our group going. Like I told you I’ve been taking data of this group. How we can get out to better starts?”
Fortunately, A bench-heavy unit featuring Cam Johnson and Royce O’Neale made up some ground in the second quarter, as the Knicks’ second unit stagnated on offense and the Nets started making some 3-pointers. Johnson led the way with 13 efficient first-half points for Brooklyn, shooting 3-for-4 from deep with a couple strong takes inside:
Nice closeout attack from Cam Johnson, finished as BKN's leading scorer in the half with 13. More of this would be nice: pic.twitter.com/JckFKbgywc— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 21, 2023
Brooklyn’s back-court of Cam Thomas and Spencer Dinwiddie contributed ten apiece, doing their best to make up for Bridges’ cold start, but neither caught fire, shooting a combined 7-of-19.
The Nets’ half-court defense was not the reason they trailed 60-51 at the half, but they still could not contain Julius Randle. Randle bullied a variety of matchups, from Johnson to Dinwiddie, to the tune of 19 points including a 7-of-7 performance from the free-throw line. Dorian Finney-Smith had some success defending the New York forward, but DFS played just seven minutes before the break.
The dam burst in the third quarter, and not in Brooklyn’s favor. Their transition defense continued its Ferris Bueller impression, as did Mikal Bridges:
Nets down 20. Mikal Bridges is 1-for-14, and the team's transition defense is non-existent. Awful: pic.twitter.com/wqpS7aOAfl— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 21, 2023
The Knicks opened the third on a 11-0 run to sprout their lead to twenty points. Suddenly, Brooklyn was playing to avoid embarrassment before they could think about winning an opponent they had dominated in recent years.
“We can’t use any excuse,” said Brooklyn’s head coach. “They were on the West Coast also. They were still more physical. We knew they were the number one offensive rebounding team. We had some good possessions where we brought the fight but there were some possessions where they won that battle.”
The energy in the Barclays Center did not die, but only because Knicks fans had traversed the two bridges in spades, as the visitors’ support grew louder and louder.
The Nets briefly reversed momentum on the backs of the Cams. Thomas and Johnson finished as the their team’s leading scorers, each making four triples and scoring 20 points. Wednesday's positives were not aplenty, but that duo was responsible for most of them. Whether it was Thomas making a nice pass off the pick-and-roll...
A nice lob from CT to Clax and the Nets are improbably within seven: pic.twitter.com/RAjlZLITTk— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 21, 2023
...or Johnson finally stepping up in the scoring column thanks to some advanced moves...
Cam Johnson with a real nice step-back two, Nets trying to make a significant dent in NYK's lead: pic.twitter.com/SlPV8NFGjU— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 21, 2023
...the two Cams gave Nets fans some highlights, and also gave the Knicks a scare in the third quarter.
New York’s lead dwindled to seven at 84-77, despite vastly outplaying their cross-town opponent for much of the night. Were they really going to give the Nets a chance to steal a totally undeserved win?
Nah. Randle continued his jaunt to a game-high 26 points, Jalen Brunson chipped in some of his 16/8/7 line, but Donte DiVincenzo was the Villanova Star of the Night, contributing 23 points on 5-of-10 shooting from three, including some momentum-killing daggers.
Overall, the Knicks shot 13-of-33 from three on the night (39.4%), better than Brooklyn’s 15-of-47 (31.9%). The Nets couldn't make it up elsewhere, unable to drive lanes consistently, losing the points-in-the-paint battle 52-40. Interior scoring, mid-range scoring, long-range scoring, it didn’t matter; the Manhattanites won every battle imaginable, and thus, the war wasn’t close.
Cam Thomas didn’t fret over Brooklyn’s process, instead offering a simpler explanation: “I thought the offense was fine. We’re just missing shots. We’re just missing shots, really.”
Johnson, meanwhile, acknowledged the injury-riddled elephant in the room, but chose not to blame Brooklyn’s absences for the tough showing: “Dennis [Smith] and Lonnie [Walker] do put pressure on the rim, but I don’t think it’s a matter of the personnel that we’re playing that can or cannot do certain things. I think it’s more of… I think it comes down to just figuring out what team exactly we’re gonna be and how we’re gonna score and how we’re gonna trust each other to do that and get that 100 percent buy-in.”
Any notions of an improbable fourth-quarter comeback died when Brooklyn shot 1-of-10 to start the final frame. The Knicks pushed their lead closer to 30 points, not only beating the Nets but embarrassing them on their home court. Hartenstein was ultimately proved correct, particularly after Immanuel Quickley dropped in his 19th point of the night off the bench:
Quickley received a technical foul after that 3-pointer, upset about the missed shooting foul. So, in the midst of the guests’ celebrating, Trendon Watford headed to the stripe. Watford missed the technical free-throw, which sent the Knicks fans into one last frenzy. Then, the crowd cleared out for the night, and the cross-town rivalry ended with a quiet scrimmage between the two benches.
Wednesday’s game wasn’t chippy, it wasn’t competitive, it certainly didn’t feel like a rivalry. It felt more depressing than anything else.
Pretty ignominious here. Staying to the end. More running room to throw myself from second deck— NetsDaily (@NetsDaily) December 21, 2023
Even games like Wednesday’s have some milestones, though none that erase the pain of such an ugly loss.
- Day’Ron Sharpe recorded a career-high 15 rebounds, with a career-high-tying nine of them coming on the offensive glass, though many came during the dregs of the fourth quarter.
- Nic Claxton had a quiet night but was effective on defense, recording four blocks for the third consecutive game, as the Knicks shot a putrid 53% at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass. The only player in franchise history to block four shots it in more than three straight games was, duh, Shawn Bradley.
- Cam Johnson scored 20 points for the third time this season, and his four 3-pointers mark his second-most. (He tallied a season-high 23 points and five 3-pointers on 11/22 at Atlanta.)
- The Cams both reached the 20-point mark in the same game for the first time this season, the second time they’ve scored 20+ points in the same game as teammates (also: 2/26/23 at Atlanta).
Prior to the game the Nets released the following medical update on the injured Dennis Smith Jr., Lonnie Walker IV, and Ben Simmons.
Jacque Vaughn addressed the update and added context to all three players’ situations, which we recapped in full here.
The recap? Smith is on track to return soon, Walker soon-ish, while Simmons continues to be a medical mystery.
Mitch Robinson out for year
The news was not all good for the Knicks. Shortly after the game ended, Shams Charania reported that New York have applied for a disabled player exception of $7.8 million on Mitch Robinson’s contract, meaning the team believes he is out for the season with an ankle injury...
The New York Knicks have applied to the NBA for a Disabled Player Exception worth $7.8 million as the franchise projects center Mitchell Robinson will miss the rest of the season, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Major development as Robinson had ankle surgery last week. pic.twitter.com/8EvjWfI9qA— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 21, 2023
Uh-oh. The Nets are back at it on Friday night, a date at the Barclays Center with the Denver Nuggets. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
- Box Score: New York Knicks 121, Brooklyn Nets 102 - NBA
- Game Highlights: New York Knicks 121, Brooklyn Nets 102 (Video) - NBA
- Jacque Vaughn on the Nets’ struggles offensively (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Johnson talks Nets loss to rival Knicks (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Thomas on Brooklyn’s loss to the Knicks (Video) - YES Network
- Knicks beat Nets 121-102, win in Brooklyn for the first time in 4 years - Brian Mahoney - AP
- Knicks end road woes vs. Nets, win 121-102 - Reuters
- Knicks roll past rival Nets to end road trip on high note - Peter Botte - New York Post
- Nets’ Dorian Finney-Smith gets emotional reunion after dad’s 28-year incarceration - Jared Schwartz - New York Post
- Knicks star Julius Randle’s physicality too much for Nets - Jared Schwartz - New York Post
- Mitchell Robinson likely out for season in Knicks injury disaster - Peter Botte - New York Post
- Schedule not only challenge for Knicks in this key stretch - Mike Vaccaro - New York Post
- Superstar-less Nets fail to measure up as Knicks fans infiltrate Barclays Center ($) - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Julius Randle, Knicks pound Nets, 121-102, as Mikal Bridges’ struggles continue ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- Knicks too much for weary-looking Nets in matchup at Barclays Center ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Give Knicks’ Julius Randle a hand for turning it around ($) - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Randle scores 26 to lead Knicks past Nets, 121-102 - Ben Krimmel - SNY
- Nets: 3 key takeaways from blowout loss vs. Knicks - Erik Slater - SNY