Nets beat Knicks to split four-game series
New York - Joe Johnson and the Nets left Madison Square Garden for the last time this regular season, even with the Knicks in the series and right behind them in the standings.
Year One of a new rivalry for Brooklyn and New York is over - barring a postseason matchup - and Johnson thinks it lived up to expectations.
"You've got two teams in New York. They want to be the top dogs. We want to be the top dogs. It's a battle. We split. We'll see what happens next," he said.
Johnson made the go-ahead jumper with 22 seconds left and scored 25 points, leading the Nets to an 88-85 victory over the Knicks on Monday and a split of the four games between the city rivals.
Deron Williams added 14 points and 12 assists for the Nets, who cut the Knicks' Atlantic Division lead to one game. Brook Lopez had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Kris Humphries came off the bench for 11 points and 13 boards.
Brooklyn won the first matchup, and then New York took the next two and opened a huge lead in the standings that the Nets have spent most of the last month wiping away.
"Big game tonight! The Garden got really quiet on the way out!" Humphries posted on Twitter.
Carmelo Anthony had 29 points and seven assists for the Knicks, but missed all six shots in the fourth quarter and finished 11 of 29 for the game. J.R. Smith scored 16 points and Amare Stoudemire 15.
"It's over. We don't see them anymore, but it is the beginning of something that's going to be here for a long, long time." Anthony said.
"These games that we play against Brooklyn are definitely going to be tough, hard battles and as a Knick, we definitely look forward to that challenge and look forward to playing them four times."
There's still the hope of a playoff battle in the spring, both teams well positioned to reach the postseason.
"I think it's a good rivalry right now. It's a very good rivalry. It's got the potential to be even better," Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "That's with a lot of friendships among the players and the coaching staffs. It's really good for New York basketball."
The Nets survived a pair of lengthy droughts in the second half but got 10 points in the final period from Johnson, who used to play for Knicks coach Mike Woodson in Atlanta and has become the player Brooklyn turns to for big shots in the clutch.
Anthony had his 26th straight 20-point game, tied with Stoudemire for third-longest streak in franchise history, but the Knicks were sluggish early in their first game since playing in London on Thursday and lost for the third straight time on Martin Luther King Day.
The Knicks led by three before consecutive 3-pointers by CJ Watson and Johnson gave Brooklyn a 78-75 lead. Smith scored, but then Johnson made another 3 and a jumper to extend the lead to 83-77 with 5:38 remaining before the Nets went cold again.
New York shut Brooklyn out over the next 5 minutes while scoring seven in a row, regaining the lead on Anthony's free throws with 40 seconds to play. But the Nets got the ball on the next possession to Johnson, who dribbled right toward the baseline and pulled up for the go-ahead basket.
Anthony missed badly on the next possession and the Knicks fouled Williams, who made both with 8.3 seconds to play for a three-point lead. Jason Kidd made one after the Nets fouled him intentionally, but the Knicks had one final chance after Williams hit just one of two on his next trip, ending a streak of 52 consecutive made free throws. Smith's rushed 3-point attempt bounced off the backboard and front of the rim.
"I thought we did a good job defensively. Joe Johnson made some tough shots, we let him get to his sweet spot a couple of times, but the effort was there," Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. "You've got to give them credit for hitting big shots."
The Knicks led the division by six games after beating the Nets here on Dec. 19, but the Nets have gone 11-2 under Carlesimo while the Knicks have battled injuries and failed to play at the level they reached early in the season.
Humphries finished with nine points and eight rebounds in 12 first-half minutes, and the Nets led 47-41 at the break.
The Knicks shot under 35 percent in the first half and trailed by nine early in the third quarter before finally finding their legs. Stoudemire and Smith each had two baskets before Anthony's jumper capped a 10-0 run that gave New York a 63-60 lead during a span in which it held Brooklyn without a basket for five minutes. The Knicks led 68-65 after three.
It was the third tight game in the series, the games living up to the extra emphasis that was put on them since the Nets' move from New Jersey into the Knicks' city. Anthony was the dominant player in the series, a thrill for the Brooklyn native and a tough pill to swallow for the Nets, who desperately tried to acquire him two years ago before the Denver Nuggets instead took the Knicks' package.
But he couldn't quite reach his level of play from the first three games, when he averaged 37 points.
"Two and two against them stinks," Smith said.
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