From Brien Lewis:
For the Nets, it was a laugher that ended up as an escape.
For the Knicks, it was a comeback that fell short and ended in a tantrum.
The red-hot Nets outlasted their cross-river rivals 117-112 in front of 1,637 at Barclays Center on Monday night. It wasn’t simple or easy, but it was a W added to the win column — a league-high fifth straight.
“You’re playing NBA players, they have nothing to lose when they’re down 18 points and you have everything to lose. That’s how this goes sometimes,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We got the win, which is the most important thing. Tip your hat to the Knicks. They played hard and made it difficult for us. In the end we got the win.”
The Nets built an 18-point lead, only to see the Knicks keep chipping away to cut it to three in the waning seconds. And after Kyrie Irving (34 points) and Julius Randle (33 points) led their teams in scoring, the final, fateful play fittingly came down to them as well.
When Randle went to put up a potential tying 3-pointer, Irving swiped and seemingly got a piece of the ball. Randle came back down and got called for a travel with three seconds left. After James Harden (21 points, 15 assists, 15 rebounds) iced the game at the free-throw line, Randle had to be restrained.
Referee Scott Foster called a travel, and said through a pool reporter that they ruled the ball was touched but not knocked out of Randle’s hands.
“I was either gonna foul early, but I saw him lining up for a jump shot. I felt I could get a good hand on it. Scott called travel,” Irving said. “I thought Julius made a good play afterwards putting it down. I was gonna foul him after that just to get him to the free-throw line. That’s how it looked. That’s how it went.”
I was looking for some hope for this game by watching the Nets nearly lose to the Pistons and it is shocking just how nearly identical this game was to that one. The Nets build up a big lead, get sloppy and then the other team gets close at the end and then the Nets’ stars bail them out.
That isn’t to say that the Knicks, and Thibs in particular, don’t deserve a ton of credit for the way that they closed out this game. The final minutes of this game were a master class in how much defense really connects to the will – the Knicks practically willed their way to a chance at tying the game in the closing seconds with a three pointer. That’s obviously all from Thibs and so the Knicks deserve a ton of credit for that.
At the same time, as the Post alludes to, this was a laugher that the Nets foolishly took their feet off of the gas on and the Knicks, like the Pistons before them, took advantage of that faltering. You have to wonder what will happen if this same sort of thing happens against the Sixers or the Bucks. The Nets’ stars might not be able to bail them out in the end.
Of course, the Nets are also doing all of this without Kevin Durant, so you can easily say, “Well, duh, they’ll just add Kevin Durant to this same roster and dominate” and that might very well be the answer (we saw tonight that even when the Knicks were locking down Harden, that meant Kyrie could score with abandon – what do you do when you add Durant to the mix?), but it’s still a cause for concern for them.
Meanwhile, the Knicks should feel proud of how hard they fought in this game. I sure hope that that hard work gets paid off in a karmic victory against the Sixers on Tuesday night. The Sixers are playing without Joel Embiid, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility, even with the other main Sixers playing at a really high level right now, as well (Tobias Harris might not be a max guy, but he’s playing really freakin’ well for the Sixers this year).
As for the contested play, I think they should have called a jump ball, but I can see the argument for a travel.