It’s likely that New York basketball fans will remember the first regular-season game between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets for a long time, but they will do best to forget the overall quality of play on both sides. On a wild, historic night at Barclays Center, the Nets beat the Knicks in 96–89 in overtime, a back-and-forth game in which no team led by more than seven and the crowd resembled an intrasquad game in which half the arena was one side’s friends and family and the other side was the other’s. It was giddy and loopy and downright inspiring … just don’t call the basketball “good.”
The Nets and Knicks are now tied at 9–4 atop the Atlantic Division, among the best teams in the NBA, but they certainly didn’t resemble that last night. The Nets were inconsistent and clumsy all night and arguably stayed in the game because of offensive rebounding. (You can make a strong argument that in spite of Deron Williams’s sixteen points and fourteen assists, the Nets’ MVP was Reggie Evans, who drove the Knicks mad on the boards.) Meanwhile, the Knicks had only two players show up: Carmelo Anthony, who had 35 points and thirteen rebounds, and Tyson Chandler, who scored a season-high 28 points and grabbed ten rebounds himself. Everyone else was terrible, particularly Raymond Felton, who was a gruesome 3–for–19 from the field, a figure that didn’t deter him from putting up crucial misses in the dying minutes of regulation (and one more right before time expired in overtime, just for the sake of completion).
The Knicks defense was (mostly) back to its pre-Rockets levels, but the offense looked awfully familiar to anyone who watched this team in the playoffs last year. Toss it to Carmelo — playing small forward thanks to the absence of Jason Kidd (back spasms), though that still feels like a bit of an overreaction from coach Mike Woodson — and hope he can create something. Carmelo played his arse off — there was one terrific possession in which he outbattled three different Nets for a series of rebounds — but ended up logging 51 minutes and was clearly exhausted by the end of the game. He even missed six free throws, the surest sign of ‘Melo fatigue. Though, to be fair, the whole team looked to be panting and winded by the final buzzer, which is a downside of the eight-man rotation Woodson is insisting on these days. (It’s tough to argue he’s underplaying Marcus Camby anymore, though; he was awful in his short stint.)
The Nets, again, were hardly splendid. Deron Williams brought his A game (it remains something that should both thrill and worry Nets fans that Williams appears to turn it on only when a game is in the spotlight), and Brook Lopez was a focal point of everything the Nets were doing, making up for another lousy evening from Joe Johnson who, we remind you, is the third-highest-paid player in the NBA. But this came down to late-game execution, and when the Knicks had a chance to put this away with the score tied in the final seconds of regulation, Anthony forced a fadeaway — it appeared he had Steve Novak, who wasn’t hitting anything anyway, open in the corner — that went nowhere. The Nets essentially dominated overtime, taking advantage of the too-pooped-to-pop Knicks, and just like that, they had won the first We-Still-Don’t-Have-a-Name-for-This-Series-We-Need-to-Come-Up-With-One-Soon.
More important in a basketball sense, the Nets tied the Knicks in the Atlantic and look for all the world to be a team that’s playing with confidence, verve, and genuine excitement. (Though we’ll see how they feel after their upcoming road trip.) Meanwhile, the Knicks, reeling without Jason Kidd (and potentially Ronnie Brewer, who dislocated his finger late in this one), have none of the ball-movement and defensive oppressiveness that marked the impressive start to their season. The Knicks often looked like the better team, in spite of it all, last night, in spite of terrible nights from Felton and J.R. Smith, the scoring options supposedly meant to help ‘Melo. But they lost, and, suddenly, they look more lost than they have all season. It’s possible we, and others, are making too much out of this loss. It’s possible that this will always happen after Knicks-Nets games from now on. That’s the surest sign that these games, already, matter.