Both coaches agree that talk of this being a rivalry is premature, but when you consider where these franchises are in their rebuilding stages and the college-like atmosphere in Brooklyn on Friday night … if these teams ever get to the elite level, it could be a lot of fun for a city that loves its basketball.
“I think both of our teams need to start winning a lot more before we call this a serious rivalry,” David Fizdale said before the game. “You’ve got to earn that.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, after the game, somewhat agreed.
“I’d love for both teams to keep improving and have these battles going forward into the future,” he said. “It’s great for the city and great for the fans of New York basketball.”
It wasn’t the highest quality of basketball on display, but the energy and effort — and close finish — made it entertaining. The Knicks struggled in the first half to make very makeable shots (34.8% shooting) and were outrebounded badly (31-16), but because they forced the Nets into a ton of turnovers (12), they managed to stay in the game, thanks in part to 11 points off those turnovers.
By the end of the game, the Knicks had 29 points off 22 Nets turnovers.
That, so far, has been the most notable trait of this team two games into the season. It will have to be on a nightly basis for them to stay in some games against teams with superior talent. In a game against a Nets team that is also rebuilding — and may have some players a little farther ahead on the development scale — it almost helped them steal a road win.
“One thing about us, we didn’t put our heads down,” rookie Kevin Knox. “We just kept fighting the whole game.”
Knox (17 points) had his breakout game after struggling a bit in the opener and the last few preseason games. He made 7 of 14 from the field, 3 of 4 from three and also had six rebounds and a blocked shot in 28:08.
“I just wanted to come in and make sure I made shots,” the 19-year-old said. “I’ve been working a lot, getting a lot of shots up so I’ll be able to hit those big-time shots.”
Knox played well, but teaching still remained a priority. After he hit a big three to tie it at 93 in the fourth quarter, the Nets called a timeout and the Knicks’ bench ran out to celebrate the shot. Fizdale pointed right at the rookie and said, “You, come here!” He then scolded him for a missed defensive assignment that happened before the shot.
Fizdale would only acknowledge it was a teaching moment and did involve the rookie’s defense. But just as notable as Fizdale using that moment to keep the kid mentally focused after a big shot was that he left him in the game down the stretch.
“It’s why you get a lot of games,” Knox said, “and why you get film.”
Fizdale loved what he saw out of 20-year-old Frank Ntilikina, whose role as an all-around player is starting to take shape. Ntilikina scored 7 of his 9 points in the third quarter when Fizdale charged him with running the offense and the Knicks mounted their comeback. In fact, they were down 11 just two minutes into the half when Fizdale called a timeout.
“I put the ball in his hands,” Fizdale said, “to see what Frank will do with it.”
Ntilikina once again filled the box score with 9 points, 4 assists and 3 steals and was +6 in 30:42.
Tim Hardaway Jr. had another big night scoring (29 points) but he won’t like what the film shows in the last minute of the game. He lost the ball with 55.4 seconds left and the Knicks down 3. He was on an island against fellow Michigan man Caris LeVert to defend the game-winning drive and then missed the last-second three-point attempt.
It was his defense that bothered Hardaway Jr. the most.
“Gotta know that he’s going right, gotta know that,” he told MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow. “That’s on me. Being around him all this time, I should know that.”
His turnover with 55 seconds left was also on him and against LeVert. Hardaway had it at the top of the three-point arc with a screen from Enes Kanter. Hardaway looked hesitant and when he pulled up for three off the screen, he second-guessed the shot and went to pass to Kanter instead. He got the ball back and tried to go behind his back against physical defense from LeVert and lost the ball.
It was just the third turnover in the game for the Knicks, which tied a franchise record.
It did not cost the Knicks the game, as they managed to get a stop at the other end and then Kanter hooked up with Trey Burke on a beautiful three-point play off a pick-and-roll to tie it with 15 seconds left.
Kanter had a monster game, with 29 points and 10 rebounds.
“All we can do is learn from it,” Kanter said. “The beauty of the NBA is we have another game tomorrow.”
That would be the Celtics, who come to the Garden on Saturday night. Both teams will be coming off a back-to-back as Boston lost in Toronto on Friday night. In a season of learning and lessons for the young Knicks team, this is the first experience against one of the NBA’s elite and a team they’re trying to build up to eventually challenge in the East in the coming years.
Hardaway said there’s only one thing the Knicks can do right now against Boston:
“Bring that same intensity.”
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