The Knicks lusted for Kyrie Irving going back to last season. They targeted him as a player to lead the Knicks’ renaissance along with Kevin Durant and the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. They struck out on all three.
At least, the Knicks can be encouraged that Williamson is sitting out six to eight weeks after arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee and Durant will be out for the season after tearing his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals months prior to him signing with the Nets. But Irving stayed healthy, and the Nets could not avoid him last night.
Despite his mercurial personality, the newly minted Nets point guard showed the Knicks why they want him when he shot a jumper and a 3-pointer down the stretch to give the Nets a 113-109 victory over the Knicks.
The Knicks settled for scraps this offseason by signing valuable role players to improve the culture of this team, and they played well enough to give their team a moral victory.
Amusingly, Knicks fans settled for moral victory. Talk about low standards Knicks owner James Dolan created for them. In the 90s, it was championships and nothing else. Now, moral victories become so cool for a franchise that used to have a great pedigree.
A moral victory meant the Knicks took a 109-106 lead with 3:41 in the game after trailing by 19 at one point. It meant the Knicks made the Nets earn a win by putting a scare on them. Whatever.
In the end, the Knicks would have preferred to get Irving on this night. He made a jump shot to cut the Nets’ deficit to 109-108 with 59.6 seconds to go, and he shot a 3-pointer to give them a 111-108 lead they would not relinquish. Spencer Dinwiddie hit two free throws to finish the game.
Oh, and Irving guarded people down the stretch, too. When was the last time the Knicks featured a player that can make shots and play defense in the fourth quarter? Go back when they had Patrick Ewing. That’s such a long time, isn’t it?
The Knicks lacked a point guard for a long time that goes back to the Pat Riley days. They continue to search for one, which is why they were desperate for Irving for all his issues.
They made RJ Barrett play the role of a point guard to counter Irving, and not surprisingly, it turned out to be a disaster. It was out of necessity and desperation that Knicks coach David Fizdale turned to his rookie since they don’t really have a point guard.
The Knicks thought they had their guy in Irving, and they also thought they had Durant. Everything changed when they lost in the lottery. Not only did they not get Williamson, but they didn’t get Ja Morant, either. That’s when it was not fait accompli anymore the Knicks would get those two superstars, and it turned out that was the case. Not only did the Knicks lose out on those two, but they saw those two signed with the Nets this summer.
Sure Williamson and Durant offer injury concerns, but it’s a risk the Knicks had to take for credibility purposes. Management and ownership banked on the Knicks to win the lottery and get the free agents to become a championship contender. They suffered two awful seasons for a payoff in the lottery and in free agency, and it became a disaster.
The Knicks could have used Irving in a game that was winnable. Instead, he played for the Nets, and he played like a difference maker. Look, the Nets did not play great, but guess what? A superstar makes up for all of it. He can lead the way by making clutch shots instead of having the Nets pack it in and move on to the next game. He makes everything better just by being there.
Irving can carry his own team, and he showed that in the two games by scoring 76 points in two games (50 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and 26 against the Knicks) he played for the Nets. Wait until he and Durant click next season, and then they will become everyone’s problem, not just the Knicks.
Irving looked as engaged as I ever saw in his career these last two games. He has something to prove to himself, too. His ending with the Boston Celtics turned out to be a disaster for him and the team. He wasn’t happy, and it showed in his play. He did not like his teammates. Now, he wants to change that perception of he can’t be the guy on his own team. He has been committed to working well with his new teammates, and so far so good.
It also helps he has a coach who can entrust him in Kenny Atkinson, who knows how to coach guards. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens didn’t exactly trust him to run the point, which was why everything went bad for Irving and Celtics.
Irving put the Celtics in the rear view mirror a long time ago. He embraces the responsibility of being the guy and being a leader. He enjoys being a Net.
The Knicks could use him.