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MVP candidate Chris Paul shot a jumper and a three-point dagger to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 118-110 victory over the Knicks while ending the Knicks’ nine-game winning streak in the process Monday night at Madison Square Garden. This happened after Julius Randle cut the Knicks’ deficit to 113-110 with 1:09 to go in the game.
With the way the Knicks stepped up in the fourth quarter during the winning streak, the Garden audience and the Knicks viewing audience at home figured it would be another come-from-behind victory. It would have been impressive of all those wins since it came against an NBA title contender.
No matter. The Knicks made an impression on their fans and in the basketball world. They are back, and they are not going anywhere. This is a team that should be playing in the postseason considering they played well all season long. At 34-28, I like their chances to avoid the play-in game and play in the playoffs.
This bothers the Nets. It has to be. They figured with the Knicks projecting to be a losing team and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving playing together, everyone in town would pay attention to them. Durant and Irving haven’t played much together this season, even though the Nets kept winning with the acquisition of James Harden in January. Unfortunately for the Nets, the Knicks overachieved this season with an improved play by Randle, a resurgent play by Derrick Rose and an excellent coaching performance by Tom Thibodeau.
The Knicks received more love from the tri-state area than the NBA title contender Nets. Just look at the back pages of the New York tabloids and the coverage of both basketball teams. Go to a bar and you will see more TVs fixated on Knicks games. Whether you go to work or in transit or in the park, you will hear Knicks conversation more than a Nets conversation. Twitter explodes when the Knicks play while the Nets barely register a comment on social media.
The Nets and five of their fans can say the Knicks can have all the attention they want while the Nets focus on winning a championship.
But who are the Nets kidding? When Harden noted about so many Knicks fans showing up at Barclays Center to root for the Knicks against the Nets last month at his home court, this had to rankle the Nets. It bothered Harden.
For Harden to be surprised, a basketball observer in this town must wonder what color the sky is in his world? He obviously knew nothing about New York and its history with basketball to be surprised about the Knicks fans outdrawing Nets fans at the Nets home court. If he thought Knicks fans would go away, he experienced a rude awakening last month. Even when the Knicks stink, the fans are loyal, even to a fault where they enable James Dolan.
This will always be a Knicks town whether the Nets like it or not. One would think the Nets would learn a long time ago that it’s pointless to supplant the Knicks as New York’s basketball team. It will never happen. The Knicks built a fanbase that goes from generation to generation going back to the 70s. The grandparents, parents, kids and grandchildren root for the Knicks to keep the family tradition. The Nets can’t do anything about breaking that tradition.
Give the Nets credit for not giving up, but this is just futility in exercise. Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Porkhorov can tell you that after they tried so hard to make New York a Nets town. Apparently, Joe Tsai missed the memo. He apparently thinks signing Durant and Irving would change everything. While it was a good move to improve the team’s status basketball-wise, it does nothing for the fans here. New Yorkers don’t embrace mercenaries as the Rangers, Knicks, Yankees and Mets found out the hard way a long time ago.
Here’s why the Knicks are beloved here: This roster is a mixture of homegrown players and reclamation projects. They all band together to play for a purpose, which is playing defense and executing a crisp offense that focuses on ball movement than isolation offense. Plus, these guys don’t take games off like the Nets stars tend to do. They know they have a responsibility to the sport and the fans to play all 82 games and put on their best effort. The Knicks have players that don’t play like entitled or the game owes them anything. They are everything that is right about the game.
The Nets come nowhere close to that. At least, they aren’t pretending to care about it. They know it would be meaningless since fans would still not care.
It’s hard to take the Nets seriously in this town when Durant, Irving and Harden take games off when they feel like it. Irving takes personal days, which is unheard of from a professional athlete during the season.
It wasn’t a coincidence Durant played on Sunday. He wanted to play mainly because he was sick and tired of hearing about the Knicks on his social media feed. He wanted the attention on him and the Nets. He scored 33 points in the Nets’ 128-119 victory over the Suns in his return. No matter. No one cared one bit.
The Nets can go to the NBA Finals and win it all, and no one in town will care. The Knicks should be a lock to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 season, and fans are already excited to the point they are thinking maybe the Knicks can go to the Eastern Conference Finals with the right matchup. That tells the story right there.
The Nets won 14 of 15 at one point this season, and it registered a yawn from the public. If they can’t be excited about that, why would they be excited about the Nets’ pursuit of a championship? No one even cared when Jason Kidd led the Nets to two straight NBA Finals in his first two seasons with the team. I doubt things are ever changing, especially with the Knicks having a season to remember.
This rankles the Nets, especially Durant and Harden, no matter how much they deny it.