No ‘Melo, no problem: Knicks beat Nets, who fail to clinch No. 5 seed
At least the New York Knicks can say they won a city championship.
Only the Brooklyn Nets have a chance to compete for a real one — though they’d better play a lot better than this.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 16 points and the Knicks, playing without the injured Carmelo Anthony, beat the Nets 109-98 on Tuesday night to win the season series between city rivals.
And in an otherwise massively disappointing season, apparently local bragging rights do matter.
"Hell yeah," Knicks guard J.R. Smith said. "I mean, I’m cool with some of those guys over there, so I can still say something when we’re in the gym this summer. As long as I can say they didn’t beat us that many times, we’re good."
The Knicks prevented the Nets from clinching the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and won their third straight in their too-little, too-late strong finish. Amare Stoudemire and Smith each added 14 points.
Anthony had an MRI exam Tuesday that revealed a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He won’t play Wednesday against Toronto, the final game of the first season in his 11-year career that won’t end with a playoff berth — and potentially his last as a member of the Knicks. He has said he will become a free agent in July.
Marcus Thornton scored 24 points for the Nets, who weren’t sharp despite playing starters Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The other starter, Shaun Livingston, remained sidelined with a sprained right big toe.
The Nets still have a magic number of one for finishing fifth. But they could fall to No. 6 if they lose Wednesday in Cleveland and Washington beats Boston.
"Tonight was an example of how not to take a step forward. We were off our game offensively, defensively, all phases of the game and that’s not how you want to go into the playoffs," Pierce said.
The Knicks would be in the playoffs themselves if they played against everyone else the way they did against the Nets while winning three romps.
All four games were on national TV, though none was really worth watching after halftime. The Knicks won a pair of routs, 113-83 at Barclays Center in December and 110-81 at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago. The Nets won by 23 in their lone victory.
The overhyped city series didn’t live up to preseason expectations, much like the Knicks. Players from both sides had sparred in the press during the summer after the Nets made their big offseason moves, expecting to battle to be the best in New York and also the Atlantic Division.
Well, the division champion isn’t from New York — or even the U.S. Toronto finished ahead of both teams.
The Knicks have defeated the Raptors, Bulls and Nets, currently the East’s Nos. 3-5 seeds, in their last three games, and coach Mike Woodson said it was "irritating" that his team would be watching the playoffs from home.
"If we had handled our business early on and didn’t let some of the close games get away, we probably wouldn’t be standing here. We’d probably be preparing for playoff basketball, but that’s not the case," Woodson said. "We put ourselves in this hole and we’re going to have to live with it this summer and then try to figure it out next season."
The Knicks led 29-18 after one and the game got fun midway through the second quarter. Stoudemire had a powerful follow dunk over Mason Plumlee, screaming into the rookie’s ear afterward. Plumlee responded in the best way possible, dunking on the Nets’ next two possessions.
Plumlee finished with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds.
But Brooklyn never really got into the game, and the only real interest in the second half were some occasional dueling chants between the split crowd. A "Goodbye Melo!" chant from a section of Nets fans was soon followed by a loud "Let’s go Knicks!"
NOTES: The Nets wore their Brooklyn Dodgers-inspired grey uniforms on Jackie Robinson Day. He debuted for the Dodgers as the first black player in the major leagues on this date in 1947. … Pierce became the sixth player in NBA history to score 1,000 points in 15 straight seasons, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19), Karl Malone (18), John Havlicek (16), Elvin Hayes (15) and Robert Parish (15). … Mirza Teletovic’s wife gave birth to twins earlier Tuesday and the Nets reserve forward also will miss Wednesday’s game.