The narrative for the basketball landscape in New York City lately has centered around the Knicks and Nets heading in different directions.
On one side of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Knicks are under new management with team president Steve Mills and general manager Steve Perry. On the court, the trade of Carmelo Anthony signaled the official beginning of the Kristaps Porzingis era.
While the Knicks have struggled at the start of the season to find cohesion, on the other side of the bridge, the Nets have been opening eyes and turning heads with their early success.
Brooklyn is in year two of a massive rebuild and culture change which has caught the attention of everyone around the league.
Where the Knicks have struggled with cohesion, the Nets have thrived. For proof of this, all you would have to do is take a quick look at the standings.
Coming into Friday night’s matchup at Madison Square Garden, the Nets were 3-2 while coming off of an impressive home win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Meanwhile, not only were the Knicks looking for their first win of the season –- they were also looking to silence any whispers of their team heading in the wrong direction with possible changes looming.
Winning cures all, at least that’s what the Knicks can tell themselves after their impressive 107-86 victory over the Nets.
There was plenty to feel encouraged about for Knicks fans on this night, starting with the play of point guard Frank Ntilikina. The rookie point guard finished with nine points and five assists in a little over 22 minutes off the bench.
Nitilikina’s defense and poise while running the offense played key roles in the Knicks getting their first win of the season.
Overall, the Knicks were solid on defense. They held the Nets to 40 percent from the field while scoring 14 points off 16 turnovers.
But Nitlkina was the spark, especially in the second quarter where the Knicks limited the Nets to only 14 points. It was a complete about face after giving up 28 points in the opening quarter.
“I thought our guys helped each other out,” Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek said afterwards. “I thought Frank’s influence, when he got in there, with his long arms … defensively … it is a continual work for us but they showed some progress.”
It’s much more than what the Knicks have shown in previous games. The effort on defense was strong, Porzingis led the way with a game-high 30 points, and they finally received meaningful minutes from their prized rookie.
But while the Knicks were giving their fans a much-needed break from their losing ways, the Nets were doing the most to remind their fanbase how bad they could be if the wheels totally fall off.
It was another poor defensive showing for Brooklyn with too many turnovers. The Knicks out-rebounded Brooklyn 55-34 and there was no answer for Porzingis, Enes Kanter, or any other Knick big in the paint.
“Porzingis is a great player,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson afterwards. “We were porous in the post against Kanter. We were porous in the post with Porzingis. When they did miss we couldn’t get the rebound.”
Atkinson was being nice with his description; the Nets were playing matador defense at times. Their lack of energy was surprising, especially after their winning effort against Cleveland.
The next three games for the Knicks are Cleveland, Denver, and Houston – they’ll be hard-pressed to win one of those three.
The Nets, a team on the come-up, had an opportunity to put their crosstown rivals in a hole they may not have recovered from this season. Instead, it’ll go down as a lesson learned for a team which may have needed to be humbled.
“We have to play better and we have to handle success a little better,” Atkinson said.” That is the next step for this team. We have good leaders. We will bounce back.”
Two teams, on opposites sides of the Brooklyn Bridge, both with a long way still to go.