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Battle of the Boroughs: a bleacher report

“Go back to Brooklyn!!” The New York Knicks and their fans were bringing their signature intensity to the fourth quarter of the Battle of the Boroughs. It hadn’t been present all game, however.

The Brooklyn Nets rode the Q train across the Manhattan Bridge to Madison Square Garden to face off with their cross-city rivals on March 24. The Mecca of Basketball was sold out and the game did not disappoint.

The New York Knicks, a heavy favorite in this matchup, got off to a slow start. They had just returned to the city from a long road trip out west which ended in a fight against the reigning champs in the Denver Nuggets at high altitude the night before. After a hard-fought loss to the Nuggets, it was back to the city for a matinee showing with the Nets.

The first three quarters were quite close between the city’s beloved teams, going back and forth. The Knicks looked uncharacteristically tired from tip-off. They were late on defensive rotations; shots that they normally hit with ease weren’t falling; and a few silly fouls were committed that allowed the Nets to keep this a close game.

Miles McBride was the Knicks’ saving grace in the first half of this game. He kept them in it while Jalen Brunson, the motor of the team, had shooting struggles. McBride had 14 of his 26 points in the first half and did not see a substitution all game, playing all 48 minutes for the Knicks.

Despite a sloppy first half by the Knicks, Donte DiVincenzo hit a bucket late in the second quarter to lead them into halftime with a two-point lead. But then the Nets found a stroke of magic. From 62 feet away, from the opposite three-point line, Mikal Bridges heaved a prayer as time expired and wondrously drained it. Bridges did a celebratory dance with his teammates as everyone headed to the locker rooms; Nets up one at half.

Everyone in the stadium scrambled for beers and nachos and Knick merchandise during intermission. Spike Lee struck a pose with Knicks legend Patrick Ewing courtside. Lee looked five-years-old next to the seven-foot, broad-shouldered ‘Hoya Destroya.’

Knick fans waiting in the bathroom line were disappointed in the first half but eager for the second.

“I ain’t worried,” one gentleman said. “We’ll turn it on this second half. We looked bad and we’re only down one. We got this.”

Unfortunately for that man, the third quarter played out similarly to the start of the game. The Knicks looked winded, or like they were still warming up. Their heads weren’t quite in the game, and it stayed close throughout the third.

Finally, the energy shifted for the Knicks after Brunson went on a solo 5-0 run with 3:30 left in the third quarter. The stadium came alive, as did the team. But Cam Thomas stole some of the energy as he nailed a high-arching three at the sound of the buzzer to narrow the Knicks’ lead to three heading into the fourth.

That’s two impressive buzzer-beaters for the team from Brooklyn. Unfortunately, that’s all the highlights they’ll get from this game. The Knicks came out swinging in the fourth, and the Nets could not keep up.

The Knicks went on a 12-0 run to shift the tides heavily in their favor. The run was fueled by Donte DiVincenzo, who finished the game with 31 points. The Knicks simply outpaced their opponent in the fourth quarter, and the Nets looked defeated well before the final buzzer sounded. It doesn’t help when nearly 20,000 people are rooting against you, especially when you’re hardly an away team and a short subway ride from home.

The game ended in a Knicks victory, 105-93. McBride and DiVincenzo combined for more than half of the Knicks’ points to make up for Brunson’s irregular showing. Brunson finished with 17.

The Battle of the Boroughs has been all Knicks victories this year and their win streak against the Nets has extended to five. The Nets, 11th in the East, are on a six-game losing streak as they scramble in an attempt to make the playoffs. The Knicks currently sit fourth in the East and hope to make a championship run.

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