It feels like there's a shade of negativity surrounding the Brooklyn Nets. No Kyrie Irving. James Harden has not been himself. Blake Griffin is out of the rotation. Joe Harris, ankle surgery, is out for the next two months. Kevin Durant is having to do too much. Meanwhile, the Nets have won 13 of their last 16, the latest against the Knicks in a 112-110 thriller Tuesday night.
For Brooklyn, the first half belonged to Harden, who put up 28 points through the first 24 minutes while Durant added just six. Then Harden, who finished with 34, was held to six points in the second half when Durant took over with 21 of his 27 points.
Add it up, and Durant and Harden combined for 61 points, 17 assists and 15 rebounds. That'll work.
On the game's deciding possession, the Knicks sent two defenders to Durant near half-court, leaving James Johnson in the soft spot to attack downhill. That's a win for the Knicks, who had Mitchell Robinson protecting the deep paint. Problem is, rather than going up straight to contest Johnson, which almost certainly wouldn't have been whistled, Robinson swiped down on Johnson's arm to get hit with a foul. Johnson's two free throws won it for Brooklyn.
Loved that Brooklyn went 1-4 flat with KD. For one the Knicks had to make some decisions on the double. Secondly, KD could see it coming. Mills/Harden in the corners leaves the middle open, Aldridge almost setting a screen as James Johnson attacks. pic.twitter.com/F1QTjJe4H4— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) December 1, 2021
It's unfortunate because Tom Thibodeau drew up a fantastic play on the previous possession to get Evan Fournier the game-tying 3-pointer. That had the energy in the building through the roof, as Knicks fans had taken over Barclays Center.
It's always a letdown to see such a high-strung game end on free throws, but it was fitting enough. Brooklyn got the line 25 times. The Knicks shot only 12 free throws. Thibodeau was not pleased with the discrepancy.
Tom Thibodeau not happy with the officiating tonight: "I’m gonna take a look at the film, but there was a big discrepancy in free throws. I can tell you that…I don’t care how the game is called. You can call it tight. You can call it loose, but you gotta call it the same."— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) December 1, 2021
Randle, who got hit with a crippling technical foul late in the fourth quarter for losing his cool with the officials, claims he was told that the reason the contact he was absorbing wasn't being called was that it wasn't affecting him due to his superior strength, which, if true, is ridiculous.
Julius Randle said he was told by officials he's not getting calls because he's stronger than defenders and contact is not affecting him:— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) December 1, 2021
"That's not how you're supposed to referee a game."
Again, I'm not taking Randle's word for this. It's hard to believe an NBA official would say something so incriminating. That said, size and strength, unfortunately, do impact the way the whistles blow. Ask Shaquille O'Neal, who was fouled twice as much as he actually got rewarded for because what would be clear contact on someone else registered on Shaq would be like a flea landing on your leg.
For the Knicks, this was their first game since Kemba Walker was removed from the rotation entirely. Alec Burks, who took Walker's place in the starting lineup, finished with a team-high 25 points, but he was minus-11 in his 39 minutes. Julius Randle added 24, but was minus-8 for the game. Four of New York's five starters were a combined minus-32.
That's in keeping with the season-long trend of the Knicks' bench digging out of the starters' holes. Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin combined for 36 points and were a collective plus-24 for the game.
With the win, the Nets improve to 15-6 and remain atop the Eastern Conference. The Knicks fall to 11-10.