Knicks fans are still bitter about Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving picking the Nets.
Then the two stars reminded them why, lifting Brooklyn to a well-deserved 110-98 victory from behind in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,812 at the Garden.
By halftime, the Nets had dug a 17-point hole, and Irving even got into it verbally with a fan heading into the locker room. But when they came out, Brooklyn outscored the Knicks 60-31 the rest of the way, their best defensive performance of any half this season.
Durant had 32 points, 11 assists and 10 boards, and Irving added 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He also walked back and forth with the fan at half-time and then bid farewell to the Garden crowd.
“Man, I just needed to release some of that energy, honestly. Because we were in a hole most of the game and I kept telling our guys it was our game, it’s our game,” Irving said. “But waving at the crowd was just like, ‘Hey, we’ll see you next year.’ ”
It was the Nets’ seventh straight win over the Knicks, and — after trailing 71-50 in the third — the second time they have erased a 20+ point deficit this year at the Garden.
“I hate being down there. I even hate to be this team [to] get down and fight. I do not like it. I don’t want it to be part of who we are,” said Durant, who said it became a rivalry — escalated after he and Irving chose Brooklyn in June 2019.
“We know how much Knicks fans don’t like us. Especially in this time when we’re not picking the Knicks, me and Kyrie. … Imagine the tweets I’ve been getting since I decided to come to the Nets. Knicks fans are still pissed off, little knocks here and there.
Although Durant said it was all the love from Knicks fans, Irving confirmed that they always ask him why he chose Brooklyn over Manhattan.
“Of course,” Irving said, acknowledging that he likes to play the provocateur. “I really don’t give an explanation. … You know me. I throw darts in the air and wait for people to guess what they want. Am I lying? What could he be talking about? Does he talk about that?
The Nets, who trailed 21 in the third, used a 20-2 blitz that extended into the fourth. And after the Knicks regained the lead, Brooklyn (42-38) closed on a 16-2 run to retain eighth place in the East.
“The first half we didn’t play the Nets brand of basketball, stuff we preach about every day,” Durant said. “But the second half is what we are.”
Alec Burks led the Knicks with 24 and RJ Barrett added 23, seven assists and seven boards. The Knicks (35-45) edged Brooklyn in the first half, only to be more talented in the second.
“You can’t do much against a 7-footer who can shoot jumpers at anybody,” Barrett said.
Durant’s pull-up put the Nets up 25-19 with 1:55 left in the first.
The Knicks clinched a huge 19-0 run, capped off by a layup from Obi Toppin (19 points). Brooklyn missed eight straight shots and saw the Knicks take a 38-25 lead. It was 17 at halftime and the cushion went to 71-50 on Barrett’s free throws.
The Knicks still led 82-67 after a Toppin fade with 1:34 in the third. But Brooklyn used a 20-2 blitz to build momentum and take the lead.
A midrange Durant pull-up put the Nets up 87-84.
Barrett put the Knicks ahead 96-94 with 5:11 to go, but Brooklyn dropped 10 unanswered points — part of a 16-2 final push — to seal the win.
After Durant found so far struggling Patty Mills (15 points) for a whopping 3, 101-96 advantage with 2:48 left, the Knicks never responded.
“It was very unsatisfying for a while. Proud of the group,” said coach Steve Nash. “We didn’t play well in the first half. We did not give the fight, the spirit, the energy necessary. … The second half, you could see them rising to the challenge, and we needed everything.