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 much-needed 110-98 come-from-behind victory before a sellout crowd of 19,812 at the Garden.
At halftime the Nets had dug a 17-point hole, and Irving had even gotten into it verbally with a fan headed off the court 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 went back-and-forth with the fan at halftime, and waved goodbye to the Garden crowd afterward.
“Man I just needed to let loose some of that energy, honestly. Because we were in a hole throughout most of the game and I just kept telling our guys that this is our game, this is our game,” Irving said. “But waving to the crowd was just like, ‘Hey, we’ll see you guys next year.’ ”
It was the Nets’ seventh straight win over the Knicks, and — after trailing 71-50 in the third — the second time they erased a 20-plus point deficit this year at the Garden.
“I hate being down. I hate even being that team [to] get down and fight back. I don’t like that s–t. I don’t want that to be a part of who we are,” said Durant, who said this has become a rivalry — ratcheted up after he and Irving picked Brooklyn in June 2019.
“We know how many Knicks fans don’t like us. Especially now this era, with us not choosing 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 jabs here and there.”
Though Durant said he was all love from Knicks fans, Irving confirmed they ask him all the time why he picked Brooklyn over Manhattan.
“Of course,” said Irving, acknowledging he loves playing provocative. “I really don’t give an explanation. … You guys know me. I throw darts in the air and just wait for people to assume whatever they want. Am I lying? What could he possibly be talking about? Is he talking about this?”
The Nets, who trailed by 21 in the third, used a 20-2 blitz that spanned into the fourth. And after the Knicks retook the lead, Brooklyn (42-38) closed on a 16-2 run to hold onto eighth in the East.
“The first half we didn’t we don’t play Nets brand of basketball, stuff that we preach about every day,” Durant said. “But the second half is who we are.”
Alec Burks led the Knicks with 24 and RJ Barrett added 23, seven assists and seven boards. The Knicks (35-45) outhustled Brooklyn in the first half, only to get out-talented in the second.
“Not much you can do against a 7-footer who can shoot jumpers over anyone,” Barrett said.
Durant’s pullup put the Nets up 25-19 with 1:55 left in the first.
The Knicks reeled off a huge 19-0 run, capped 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 swelled to 71-50 on Barrett’s free throws.
The Knicks still led 82-67 after a Toppin fadeaway with 1:34 in the third. But Brooklyn used a 20-2 blitz to take the momentum and the lead.
A Durant midrange pullup put the Nets up 87-84.
Barrett put the Knicks back ahead 96-94 with 5:11 left, but Brooklyn ran off 10 unanswered points — part of a game-closing 16-2 spurt — to seal the victory.
After Durant found heretofore struggling Patty Mills (15 points) for a huge 3 and 101-96 edge with 2:48 to play, the Knicks never responded.
“It was very unsatisfying for a while. Proud of the group,” coach Steve Nash said. “We didn’t play well in the first half. We didn’t give the requisite fight, spirit, energy. … The second half though you could just see them take the challenge, and we needed all of it.”