The Nets beat the Knicks 96 – 89 in overtime to win New York’s inaugural Battle of the Boroughs.
Played before a sell-out crowd of 17,000 fans split, according to Marv Albert, 60/40 in favour of Brooklyn that created an electric atmosphere that would put most playoff games to shame, the Knicks’ noisy neighbours grabbed the local bragging rights.
Jason Kidd was ruled out of the game with lower back spasms. With the veteran guard missing from their line-up, the Knicks were, for the first time this season, forced away from their gameplan of ball movement and three-point shooting and forced into an unfamiliar physical grindout whose pace was dictated by their East River rivals. As Steve Kerr observed, it was like watching an NBA game from the mid 1990s.
At 39 years of age, Kidd won’t win a game by putting up numbers. But without him, the Knicks fell short of the standards they’ve set themselves this season.
They shot 38.8% from the field (compared to 45% for the season) and a miserable 28.6% from three (41% for the season). Coming into the game averaging 19 assists a game, they dished 14 dimes against the Nets, the same number Deron Williams had on the night. They also committed 14 turnovers compared to their season average of 11.2.
With no Kidd, the floor spacing and ball movement, signatures of the Knicks season to date, were glaringly absent.
Mike Woodson, concerned about the Nets’ offensive rebounding, started Kurt Thomas and used Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace off the bench. In the first half, none of them could handle Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans on the boards. The gritty Evans, possibly the best example of a player able to stay in the league by knowing his job, pulled down 14 boards in just 18 minutes.
In the second half, thanks to Sheed finally negating the Nets’ on the board and spreading the floor on offence, the Knicks finally clawed their way back into the game.
Kidd’s absence was keenly felt on the offensive end. Without him there to facilitate, Raymond Felton got shot happy (three of 19 from the field) and JR Smith was rendered confused and ineffective.
Despite a career-best 28 points from Tyson Chandler, the scoring onus fell on Carmelo Anthony incessantly. Anthony was initially up to the task, pouring in 35 points on 25 shots but he had to work hard for his points and, with no one to create easy buckets, played all but three minutes of the game.
Gerald Wallace and Keith Bogans hounded Antony all night and, down the stretch, the pressure eventually told. After nailing a three with 3.37 left in the fourth, a worn-down Anthony was scoreless from the field for the remainder of the game. He took one shot in the final two minutes of regulation and just two in OT and missed them all. The Knicks superstar scorer gave it everything and was gassed in crunch time.
With the game on the line, Kidd’s experience was sorely missed. The Knicks failed to execute their offence under pressure. They didn’t run sets to get the ball to Melo in advantageous spots. They didn’t spread the floor. They didn’t create open shots for Steve Novak.
Kidd’s ability to calmly facilitate and balance the offence may well have closed out the game down the stretch. Instead, Woodson let Felton take five of the last seven shots in the last three minutes in a game where the usually-reliable guard couldn’t buy a bucket. At worst, with Kidd on the floor, the Knicks would have created a better shot for Melo to win the game at the end of regulation.
The Knicks’ good start to the season hasn’t been ruined, derailed or thrown into chaos by losing their first clash with the Nets. But the manner of the loss shows the influence Jason Kidd has on this team.
Kidd is the third-oldest active player in the league and will almost certainly have to play through pain this season. On last night’s evidence, the Knicks cannot do without him against the league’s playoff contending teams.
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