Madison Garden—Every time the Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets hook up it always seems to be a little drama in Gotham City. With the Nets creating a lot of the headlines these last few days.
Knicks rookie power forward Obi Toppin made his return from a three-week hiatus and he lasted 57 seconds of the contest. Just drama in the Big Apple.
“I was unsure if I was going to play him just because he hasn’t practiced, and so I saw an opportunity where I thought I might be able to get him in for a couple minutes just to sort of shake some rust off and see where he is conditioning-wise,’’ Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said regarding Toppin minutes. “I didn’t like the matchups and we were getting pounded on the boards, so I changed to get Julius back in there just so we could get going.
The Brooklyn Nets made a four-team trade to add superstar James Harden on to the roster. Playing with nine dressed players, the Nets beat the Knicks 116-109 at the “World Famous Arena”.
Harden will arrive soon, but Brooklyn were without Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) and traded — Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, and Rodions Kurucs.
Kevin Durant was still Durant on the court. In his first game against the Knickerbockers since disses them as a free agent in July 2019, he scored 26 points in 30 minutes — 12 of them in the third. Durant hit 10 of 18 shots — including 3 of 5 from down town.
“We want to finish the second half of the back-to-back, especially with a team that’s right across the bridge from us,’’ Durant said. “And we know what that rivalry is like, and we know the intensity this team plays with. So we really wanted this game tonight, and everybody played like it.’’
Brooklyn coach Steve Nash on the Garden being empty: “The Garden without fans just doesn’t seem right. Obviously, we’ll take any win we can get. But yeah, it’s not the same without fans, frankly. But that’s the world we live in.’’
Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley climbed out of his slump to score 19 points and looked more poised and comfortable throughout the game.
Durant accentuated a late 15-2 run with a steal and fast-break layup in the final minute of the second quarter to give Brooklyn a 61-45 lead at the break. He scored on the game’s first possession and he showed out at the Garden in the Nets’ white uniforms.
Thibodeau isn’t surprised Durant has shown any regression in his game since recovering from his Achilles tendon injury.
“He’s going to overcome whatever is in front of him,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s a gym rat. He’s a playmaker. He’s a great student of the game. And he’s got an incredible skill set. And the underrated part is his unselfishness, his willingness to pass. He’s an all-time great for sure. So it doesn’t surprise me.
While the Brooklyn is stars heaven, Knicks forward Julius Randle continued to play like a man on a mission. He scorched the Nets for 30 points and five assists, came up a little short. Slumping RJ Barrett, who didn’t have a field goal in the first half and missed his first six shots, came on late and finished the contest with 20 points.
The undermanned Brooklyn team played a game of the century, committing just one turnover in the first half. Sharpshooter Joe Harris had 15 points, hitting three treys. Nets guard Bruce Brown, chipped in 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Trailing by 18 points with 3:23 left in the game and Durant on the bench, the Knicks made a late push to make the final score look competitive than it actually was.