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As the New York Knicks staggered off the floor and toward the Barclays Center tunnel, looking very much like a team that had just lost a sudden-death game, a fan edged up to a waist-high barrier and shouted words of consolation never before heard in this basketball town.
"It's OK, Manhattan," he cried. "Don't worry about it, Manhattan."
Tyson Chandler, among the league's most accommodating players, was briefly stopped by a team official who tried directing him back to the court for some postgame obligation before Chandler waved his arm in disgust and kept on walking.
|The Nets celebrated Monday night, and rightfully so.|
Carmelo Anthony wasn't far behind him, and the same consoling fan leaned over the barrier and offered the Knicks' exhausted star a fist bump. Anthony stuck out his left hand as the man said, "One game, Carmelo. There's nothing to worry about."
Only there was plenty to worry about as the Knicks boarded their buses out of Brooklyn as 96-89 overtime losers, and as co-tenants with the 9-4 Nets atop the Atlantic Division standings. Even the elitist Manhattanites who wanted to cling to their share of first place had to concede that the Nets had just earned a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage in a way their fans will never forget.
How many Brooklyn fans were actually sitting and standing and stomping inside this alien mothership of an arena Monday night? Nobody could break down the crowd of 17,732 with any degree of certainty, but given the way booing Nets fans drowned out the M-V-P chants for Melo, a fair estimate would be 10,000 for the good guys, 7,732 for the bad.
"Every time some sort of Knick contingency started to cheer," Nets coach Avery Johnson would say, "our fans got loud. And this is what we've been dreaming about since I have been here."
Here meaning New Jersey for starters, and the long, winding road to the abandoned home of the Dodgers and the first Brooklyn-New York meeting of pro franchises since the Bums played the Giants at the Polo Grounds in 1957.
The Nets were supposed to open the season and their new building -- beautiful on the inside, not so much on the outside -- on Nov. 1 before Hurricane Sandy forced a postponement and left Johnson and his players waiting until Game No. 13, lucky No. 13 as it turned out. The Nets showed the Knicks that they mean business, and that they mean to steal some of the Knicks' business, too.
"With so much hype around it," Joe Johnson said of the event, "we just came out and showed we were the better team tonight."
Born right here in Brooklyn, and more than willing to play along with a storyline and play down his move to Baltimore at the ripe old age of 8, Anthony had a shot to play the homecoming hero, or villain, in the final seconds of regulation. With the score tied Melo rose up on Gerald Wallace, the Nets' stopper, and clanked a 16-footer off the rim.
"I'll take that shot all day," Anthony said. "I got a perfect look at it."
A tense, physical struggle barreled into overtime before a sellout crowd loving every precious second of it. If Knicks-Nets wasn't shaped by NBA Finals desperation, it did have the feel of a critical first- or second-rounder, a hell of a thing to say about a basketball game staged before the Jets are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
The Nets would prove to be the tougher, more durable team in overtime, when Jerry Stackhouse -- so old he could play for the Knicks -- drained a 3-pointer from the corner that the visitors never recovered from.
Deron Williams, good for 16 points and 14 assists, would steal the M-V-P chants from Melo in the end as Knicks fans headed for the subways that would carry them home. Anthony finished with 35 points and 13 rebounds in 50 minutes, the extreme length of his shift showing just how much Mike Woodson's team wanted to take this game.
"Fatigue set in," Woodson said, a truth illustrated by Raymond Felton's 3-for-19 shooting performance, one that surely made John Starks proud.
Chandler gave the Knicks 28 points and 10 rebounds in 45 minutes, barely outplaying Brook Lopez (22 and 11 and five blocks) and leaving a downcast Woodson to admit, "I needed about three more Tysons tonight."
A former first-round pick of the Knicks, Woodson said he'd never stepped foot in Brooklyn before Monday. No, his virgin voyage to the borough is one that won't be easily forgotten.
Jason Kidd was out with back spasms, an absence that couldn't be ignored. But the story of this game was what the Nets had, not what the Knicks didn't.
Brooklyn showed the same grit and resolve that defined their coach when he won a championship as quarterback of the San Antonio Spurs. Johnson warned his players afterward, "There are no parades, there are no trophies right now," even if someone with a Steinbrennerian stomach for the intra-city fight would've wanted to hand the Nets the Mayor's Trophy right then and there.
The Nets have a ton going for them. They have contending talent (at last), a royal first couple (Jay-Z and Beyonce) for front-row face time on national TV, and enough loyal customers to shout down the same Knicks fans who once owned the arenas in Jersey.
"The atmosphere in here was unbelievable," Anthony said. "It was a special place to play."
Melo batted away the suggestion that Brooklyn could pose a serious challenge to the Knicks' playoff designs by saying the Nets "are not somebody we're looking at every day and tracking their stats." But that is about to change.
The Nets became the first Eastern Conference opponent to beat the Knicks, and the home team pulled it off Monday night in a game, Chandler said, "where both teams understood what was at stake."
So the Knicks should be afraid of Brooklyn, very, very afraid. They shouldn't worry so much about getting out of the East, not when there's suddenly a real reason to believe they might not get out of New York.