In the battle for everything, Brooklyn reigns supreme

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — In the Battle for New York AKA the Battle of the Boroughs AKA the Clash of the Boroughs AKA The Thirteenth Game Of The Season AKA The Championship To Win Everything Ever In The History Of Ever, the Brooklyn Nets took down the New York/Manhattan Knicks in overtime at The Black House, 96-89. The victory tied the Brooklyn Nets with the Knicks for first place in the Atlantic Division, and the victory gives them a step up (though no guarantee) in any eventual tiebreaker.

Coming into the game, it was hard to gauge the makeup of the off-court constituents: would it be an even split? Would Manhattan keep on takin’ it? An early survey of mine indicated that there was enough orange and blue to give me pause, but that fear went out the window as soon as PA Announcer David Diamante bellowed in a muted undertone “…and now, the starting lineup for the New York Knicks,” and the crowd roared in unison.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

And that was that.

There were some scattered Knicks fans, assuredly. Eight different beat writers will give you eight different percentage estimates, and none of us took exit polls. But Brooklyn was in The Black House. Suffice it to say that there was a contingent loud enough to be heard in important moments, but not so loud that they ran the arena. When Carmelo Anthony was at the free throw line and they dare chanted “M-V-P,” the boos from Brooklyn rebutted so loudly that the letters faded into obscurity. The Brooklyn Chant continued to roar as its loudest and proudest, and didn’t pale in comparison to previous games at its highest decibel.

As a longtime Nets fan, as someone who grew up in New Jersey and went to his fair share of Nets-Knicks games, I knew this would be different. Games in New Jersey always felt like Knicks home games, and this game *probably* wouldn’t have the same absolute slant. It was certainly going to be different, but moving even closer to Manhattan gave it an added slant of worry. And yet last night’s crowd still held a surreal buzz, one I tried to expect and just couldn’t. For new Brooklyn Nets fans, last night was an absolute success, for at least one old New Jersey Nets fan, it was an experience in refreshment, and a solidified belief that Brooklyn fans could be the trained zombie root-root-root-for-the-home-teamers the Nets have always wanted.

What’s that? Oh, there was basketball, too. Sorry. Almost forgot.

Deron Williams, who admitted after the game he’s shooting poorly these days (6-17 tonight), was bested in the scoring poverty department by matchup Raymond Felton, who missed sixteen of nineteen shots en route to embarrassment. Brook Lopez scored as you’d expect — on open dumpdowns — and in harder times in the post on Tyson Chandler. Lopez also blocked five shots, and pulled together an efficient double-double. Gerald Wallace was everything you hope Gerald Wallace can be — the hounding defensive presence without falling for fakes and the sneaky offensive player who hits the occasional open shot and finishes around the basket.

Brooklyn Nets vs New York Knicks: Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, Carmelo Anthony

Defense. (AP/Kathy Willens)

The defense looked as on point as it’s been all season, particularly in the second half; the Knicks, leading the NBA in three-pointers made, three-pointers made per game, and second in three-point percentage, shot a paltry 6-21 from beyond the arc and 0-6 with Reggie Evans in the game. On the other end, the Nets took full advantage of the Knicks’ defensive strategy to switch on every conceivable screen and set up easy mismatches for Johnson and Williams to take advantage of.

Late in a close game, the still-adjusting Brooklyn Nets struck a surprising balance between overdrawing play designs (which they rarely do) and relying solely on isolating one of their offensive options (which they often do). The team played confident late-game minutes, trusting in their stars and role players to deliver. If Deron Williams drew a double team, Jerry Stackhouse was waiting in the corner. If Joe Johnson missed, Reggie Evans was in the mix to fight for the offensive rebound. It was a team effort, like some of the efforts we’ve seen recently, but certainly a promising one under pressured circumstances.

It wasn’t just the five on the floor that put in work. With roughly four minutes remaining in regulation and the Nets up three, with the Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony looking to concoct a victory out of thin isolation, the chant, the Brooklyn chant, which had sing-songed on multiple occasions during the evening, chorused through the arena once again. Anthony dribbled the ball astray, the Nets recovered, and trailing loper Brook Lopez finished an easy transition dunk.

Stackhouse talked about the team’s “sixth man,” but wasn’t talking about himself or any of his teammates. “I thought it was a Brooklyn crowd, and that gave us a lot of energy down the stretch,” Stackhouse said after the game. Avery Johnson added that “this is what we’ve been dreaming about since I’ve been here.” Whether or not that’s true in some esoteric definition of crowd input and effect, it was hard to ignore. The crowd loudly chanted M-V-P for Deron Williams in waning moments, and unlike the similar chants for Anthony, there was no cold water in the Manhattan tank to drown it out.

(Note: Stackhouse, noted inventor of palindromes, continues his absurd plus-minus tear. He finished the game with a team-leading +13 in 22 minutes, scoring 14 points of his own on four threes and two late-overtime free throws that helped ice the final score.)

That isn’t to say the game came rosily. The Brooklyn Nets trailed at the half, thanks mostly to Carmelo Anthony making a lot of shots. That’s what he does. Tyson Chandler decimated the Nets front line with an early putback dunk over both starters that made me remember just how big and athletic Tyson Chandler is. Chandler scored at will inside without having to create his own looks. Joe Johnson fell back into the struggle, shooting just 3-12 from the field and not playing a significant role in any facet or stretch of the game. Shortly after Lopez’s fourth-quarter transition dunk, Lopez pulled down his tenth rebound with a five-point lead, only to let Raymond Felton poke the ball out of his grasp. The ball ended up in Carmelo Anthony’s waiting, wide open hands, and Anthony drained a three to make it a two-point game. Two minutes later, the Knicks held a three-point lead. Just like that.

But when the dust settled, when the final buzzer sounded after four Jerry Stackhouse three-pointers and 14 Reggie Evans rebounds and 14 Deron Williams assists (matching the Knicks team total) and 22 Brook Lopez points and all other contributions, Brooklyn won. The Brooklyn Nets won. After all the buzz, the hype, the excitement, the two teams played 53 minutes of basketball, and one emerged victorious. It was Brooklyn.

See you Wednesday in Boston.