NEW YORK -- — It was clear from the noise in the seats, even with only about 1,600 fans in attendance.
It was obvious from the emotion on the court, where Julius Randle had to be restrained by Knicks teammates after the buzzer following a call that went against him in the final seconds.
New York's basketball rivalry was alive and heated Monday night.
“I got a little taste of it tonight,” James Harden said.
Harden finished with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in his first game against the Knicks since arriving in Brooklyn two months ago and turning the Nets into one of the NBA's best teams.
Randle had 33 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, before a number of his teammates had to get off the bench to hold the All-Star forward back as he tried to get near the referees at midcourt.
He wouldn't comment on his intentions, or the traveling call with the Knicks down three and 3.2 seconds remaining.
“I was just frustrated,” Randle said. “Obviously we fought so hard to come back and try to win the game, so I was just frustrated and that was pretty much it.”
The Nets agreed to the deal that brought Harden to Brooklyn on Jan. 13, playing short-handed that night at Madison Square Garden in a 116-109 victory over the Knicks. That made them just 7-6, but they are 20-7 since Harden’s arrival, including 19-4 when at least two of their three superstars play.
The Knicks also have played well, with a .500 record and an energized fan base that made its presence felt among the small crowd allowed in Barclays Center.
“These New York fans, especially the Knicks fans, you can hear them,” Harden said. “I don’t know how many fans we have in the building total, but you heard a lot of Knicks fans.”
The Knicks cut an 18-point deficit to 115-112 after a dunk by Randle and then got the ball back when coach Tom Thibodeau successfully challenged a foul called on RJ Barrett with 7.7 seconds remaining. The Knicks won the ensuing jump ball and Randle tried to shoot a 3-pointer. Irving got his hand on the ball as Randle leaped and Randle dropped it after he landed and was called for traveling.
Crew chief Scott Foster said Irving didn't dislodge the ball and Randle dropped it himself, making it a travel when he picked it up. He added that officials couldn't hear anything Randle said after the buzzer.
Harden closed it out with two free throws.
The Nets made 70% of their shots and led by five after one quarter, then opened the second with a 14-2 spurt to take a 49-32 lead.
Barrett scored 23 points and rookie Immanuel Quickley had 21 in his first career start for the Knicks, who are in a tough stretch with Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Philadelphia, the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, in their first four games after the All-Star break.
Knicks: Quickley started with the Knicks playing without point guards Elfrid Payton (strained right hamstring) and Derrick Rose (health and safety protocols). Also, Austin Rivers is away from the team for personal reasons. ... C Mitchell Robinson, recovering from surgery on a broken hand, did some shooting workouts before the game. Thibodeau said Robinson was making progress and hopefully would be able to return soon.
Nets: Coach Steve Nash presented Harden with the February Eastern Conference player of the month award before the game. ... Brooklyn’s 62.5% shooting from the field was its highest in a first half this season.
GETTING GRIFFIN READY
The Nets continue to take it slowly with Blake Griffin, the six-time All-Star they signed during the All-Star break. Griffin hadn't played in his final weeks in Detroit so the Nets don't want to hurry him into the lineup before his body is ready, listing him out with left knee injury management.
“He's healthy enough to play, we’re just trying to work on some of his physical deficiencies to help the knee and also ramp up his activity so he can have a safer return to play,” Nash said. “So, we just keep monitoring it, just keep building and we’ll have him back at some point here.”
The victory was the Nets' 100th against the Knicks. New York leads the series 101-100 with one meeting left this season.
Knicks: Visit Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Nets: Visit Indiana on Wednesday.
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