Kevin Durant leads Nets to comeback win over rival Knicks at MSG

Brooklyn Nets power forward Kevin Durant (7) looks to make a move against New York Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett (9) during the second half at Madison Square Garden.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets sure have a flair for the dramatics when they come to Madison Square Garden.

Brooklyn rallied back from a 21-point deficit in the second half to defeat the rival New York Knicks 110-98 to keep their push for the seventh seed in the East alive. The Nets were buoyed by a 23 point second-half performance from superstar Kevin Durant and he finished the night with 32 points, which was his 24th 30-point game of the season.

The Nets face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night back in Brooklyn and would clinch the seventh seed by defeating them and the Indiana Pacers in the final game of the regular season on Sunday. The Nets are a game back of the Cavs for the seventh seed.

“I’m proud of the group,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said. “We didn’t play well the first half. We didn’t give the requisite fight, spirit, energy. We had some good looks but didn’t make them, which can sometimes cover up your sins. I thought the second half though you could just see them take the challenge.

“We needed all of it. Obviously, at the end of the game, we kind of got separation, but it’s such a fine margin sometimes where you have to dig out of a hole where things could go either way.”

It looked as though the Knicks would run the table on Wednesday night as they built a 67-50 lead going into halftime over a visibly frustrated Nets team. Kyrie Irving even found himself getting into a verbal altercation with a fan as the team made its way into the tunnel at the end of the second quarter.

But as they had done like the last time the Nets visited Manhattan, Brooklyn fought its way back into the game. The Nets went on a 20-2 run through the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter led by Durant, with contributions from  Patty Mills and Kessler Edwards along the way.

“Yeah, it’s risky. I hate being down,” Durant said about the Nets having to come back. “I hate even being that team, like get down and fight back. I don’t like that S–t. I don’t want that to be a part of who we are. But that situation may come and for us, it’s about sticking together and making the right play regardless of the score and defensively on the same page.  That’s what we leaned on tonight and we was able to make shots. … We had a good spirit that second half.”

It was Edwards’ tip shot with 10:01 left in the game that gave the Nets their first lead since the first quarter. The Knicks gained it back moments later after Obi Toppin made a driving layup and then Alec Burks hit a pair of free throws after being fouled by Nic Claxton with 7:36 left on the clock to take a 93-90 lead.

But Durant scored eight consecutive points to put Brooklyn back in front and Irving knocked down a 25-foot three to give the Nets a 101-96 advantage. After that, the Nets never looked back.

In the two second halves that the Nets have played this season at MSG, Brooklyn has outscored New York 127-72.

“I think the satisfying part is knowing that we have this fight in us,” Patty Mills said. “And we have what we have in the locker room and we all believe and understand that we have what we need to get the job done on any given night. As well as knowing we can be the last team standing. The other side of the fence is knowing that we gotta have a consistent 48 minutes of a game to be able to be that team.”

Irving finished the game with 24 points and shot 9-of-26 from the field in the win. Seth Curry, who missed the Nets’ previous game with soreness in his right ankle, had 15 points and made three shots from beyond the arc. Mills also had 15 points on a night he shot 5-of-7 from three-point range.

The Nets had built a 25-19 lead when the Nets watched it disappear in the snap of a finger. New York went on a 19-0 run, which began in the first quarter and quickly extended into the second as Brooklyn struggled against a Knicks team that had its playoff hopes dashed well before Wednesday night.