Nets vs. Knicks: A tale of four matchups
It was just 56 days prior to their MLK Day finale, on Monday, Nov. 26, that the Nets and Knicks met for the first time as intra-city rivals. The game, postponed from the season-opening date of Nov. 1 due to Superstorm Sandy, had weeks (and eventually months) of buildup behind it. The Nets also had one strong advantage: The game was held at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Former Nets coach Avery Johnson was fond of saying that the NBA season is one of cycles, and in the case of the Big Apple brethren, he couldn’t have been any more right. Since the Monday after Thanksgiving, when the then 8-4 Nets beat the 9-3 Knicks to claim a share of the Atlantic Division lead, so much has changed for both teams that it seems like night and day. But it has, in fact, been less than two calendar months.
Come Monday evening, the 2012-13 chapter of this rivalry will be closed, with the two teams’ next meeting set to come either in the Eastern Conference playoffs or in the 2013-14 season.
So before we reach the end, let’s take a look back to see where the two teams have been.
Game 1, Nov. 26 at Barclays Center: Brooklyn 96, New York 89
The world had waited what seemed like forever for the first “Battle of the Boroughs,” so what was another 25 days? After all, instead of a season opener, fans in Barclays Center now had a clash between two teams vying for first place, right?
Right indeed, and when the Nets and Knicks finally clashed on the court for real, it took more than just 48 minutes to decide a winner. In the end, it was Brooklyn who prevailed, moving to 8-1 on its new home court with the overtime victory. Brook Lopez (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Deron Williams (16 points, 14 assists) had double-doubles, Jerry Stackhouse had 14 points including four 3-pointers, and the Nets' defense clamped down in overtime to bring home a seven-point win.
With the victory, the Nets and Knicks were even at 9-4, with both teams holding a share of the Atlantic Division lead and looking ahead to their next meeting.
Game 2, Dec. 11 at Barclays Center: New York 100, Brooklyn 97
Coming into the second meeting with their cross-town rivals, things weren’t as rosy for the Nets as they had been two weeks earlier.
Brooklyn was mired in the midst of a four-game losing streak, one that had dropped their record to 11-8, and they were without center Brook Lopez for a sixth straight game because of a sprained foot. The Knicks, meanwhile, entered the game 15-5, winners of six of their last seven after the earlier loss to the Nets.
The game itself was another nail-biter, as the Nets jumped out to a 30-18 lead after one quarter but saw the Knicks cut the deficit to four at the half. The second half was back-and-forth, and in the end, it was former Net Jason Kidd who delivered the dagger, burying a 3-pointer in the waning seconds to earn the win.
Andray Blatche, Lopez’s replacement, led the Nets with 23 points, and Deron Williams added 18 and 10 assists, but it wasn’t enough; Brooklyn would drop to 11-9 on the year, and would head to Toronto for the second half of a back-to-back wondering what was going wrong.
Game 3, Dec. 19 at Madison Square Garden: New York 100, Brooklyn 86
For the first time in three meetings, both teams were relatively healthy when Brooklyn invaded the Garden a week before Christmas. Both had won two games since their last meeting, but they were coming off tough losses (the Nets to Utah, the Knicks to Houston).
The first half saw a close contest, with the Knicks leading by just three at the break. But New York would pull away in the second half behind Carmelo Anthony’s game-high 31 points. Joe Johnson had 17 and both Deron Williams (16 points, 10 assists) and Brook Lopez (16 and 10 boards) had double-doubles, but it wasn’t enough as the Knicks took a 2-1 lead in the season series.
What no one really knew, however, is that the loss would begin the final week of Avery Johnson’s tenure as Nets coach. After a win vs. Philadelphia the following Sunday and then back-to-back losses to Boston and at Milwaukee on Dec. 25 and 26, Johnson was relieved of his duties as head coach on Dec. 27.
Game 4, Jan. 21 at Madison Square Garden
And now, the teams head back to the Garden one more time for their final regular-season clash. The Nets, who have won 10 of 12 games under P.J. Carlesimo, enter the game at 24-16, just two games behind the 25-13 Knicks. New York played just one game last week but might not be as rested as one would think after traveling to London for Thursday’s win over Detroit.
As healthy as both teams were for their last meeting, that's not necessarily the case for their MLK Day matinee. For the Nets, Gerald Wallace is still nursing bruised ribs that kept him out of games earlier last week, while the Knicks are without Marcus Camby (out at least another week or two with a foot injury) and point guard Raymond Felton, who has been out for nearly a month with a broken pinkie finger and isn’t expected back until at least the weekend.
The Knicks will, however, have Iman Shumpert, who made his season debut on Thursday after missing the first 37 games while recovering from a torn ACL suffered in last year’s playoffs.
Carlesimo was on the bench for the first three intra-city battles as Johnson’s top assistant, so he is clearly familiar with New York. Knicks coach Mike Woodson, however, may have to make some adjustments based off only what he has seen on a dozen game tapes.
Can Brooklyn even the season series and salvage a split for 2012-13, or will the Knicks take a 3-1 series victory and widen their Atlantic Division lead heading into the season’s halfway point?
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES