Sports

James Harden nets triple-double as Nets down rival Knicks

In a basketball-mad city, it’s stunning to think Monday marked the first time in eight years the Nets and Knicks faced each other with winning records.

It didn’t take long for the Nets to drop the Knicks from the ranks of the winners, beating their cross-river rivals 117-112 before 1,637 at Barclays Center.

The Nets (27-13) have won an NBA-high five straight and 13 of 14 to pull just a half-game behind East-leading Philadelphia.

Kyrie Irving’s game-high 34 points and James Harden’s triple-double led the way. But for the Nets, they’re less focused on claiming New York and more worried about winning the NBA.

“That’s fair,” said Steve Nash. “You definitely don’t want to lose to your neighbors. [But] at the same time, we’ve got to improve every night. This is still a team that’s trying to solidify our identity, our roles, how we play at both ends of the floor. Seeking to improve every night is the goal.

“Fortunately, the two things can go hand-in-hand. If we take care of business … we should put ourselves in a position to win.”

James Harden goes up for a shot against the Knicks.
James Harden goes up for a shot.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The Knicks (20-20) have taken real strides this season, developing a strong defensive identity under coach Tom Thibodeau and sitting firmly in the playoff picture. All-Star Julius Randle poured in a team-high 31 points, but Brooklyn held the Knicks to 40.2 percent shooting, and put on a display on the other end.

The Nets shot 57.9 percent, including a season-high 62.5 percent in the first half when they seized command and never gave it back. They played without Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, but it hardly mattered.

After the Nets saw an 18-point lead cut to three in the waning seconds, Irving’s defense forced a travel by Randle with just three seconds left in regulation to let Harden hit the game-clinching foul shots. Irving proved a tough cover for Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley, who had 21 in his first career start.

“Every night you’re going to face a dynamic player. Kyrie’s right up there at the top of the list, the way he can handle the ball,” Thibodeau said. “It’s set up with his shooting, too. The guy’s a great shooter, a great finisher. He can create offense all by himself. He’s an offense unto himself.

“The thing I love about Immanuel is the way he approaches it. Every day he learns. That’s why he’s growing the way he is. He’s a student of the game. This will be a good challenge.”

Harden — who missed the Jan. 13 meeting in the Garden because his trade had just been agreed upon hours earlier, and wasn’t finalized — had 21 points, 15 assists and 15 boards. It was his 10th triple-double in just 26 games with the Nets, just two shy of Jason Kidd’s team records set in 2006-07 and again the next season.

“He’s been great. He’s been a great leader. His motives are pure: He wants the team to win. He’s always trying to improve the group, offensively, defensively,” Nash said. “He’s been incredible. I knew the player on the floor, but I didn’t know the personality and the leader and I couldn’t be more impressed with him.”

After the Nets fell behind 18-11 with seven minutes left in the first quarter on a Quickley jumper, they reeled off the next eight straight to take the lead.

Brooklyn put together an extended 34-12 run that spanned the first and second quarters, hitting 13 of 16 from the floor and harassing the Knicks to 5 of 18.

After three Harden free throws, Brooklyn led 45-30 with 9:45 left in the half.

Brooklyn led by as much 65-47 on an Irving finger roll, and held off a Knick rally led by Randle and Quickley.

Alec Burks’ 3-pointer cut the lead to 107-101 with 5:37 to play, and a drive by RJ Barrett (23 points) on the next trip down cut it to four and sent Brooklyn into a timeout.

Irving got to the line and made one of two, and Harden’s floater made it 110-103 with 2:44 left. Randle cut it to four, but Irving hit again from the line with 1:37 in regulation. And after Jeff Green (20 points) snatched the rebound off a Burks miss, Harden sank a pair with 28.6 seconds left to seemingly ice it.

The Nets gave up dunks by Barrett and Randle, and when the Knicks aggressively trapped an inbounds and Barrett tied up Joe Harris, the Knicks won the jump ball. The Knicks had possession and a chance at a tying 3, but Irving’s defense forced a travel by Randle with just three seconds in regulation.

Harden’s free throws ensured there was no overtime.

“[They’re] very well-coached, not going to beat themselves. They’re going to play hard, going to defend. They have an All-Star now and Julius Randle, and [Barrett] is special,” Nash said. “This team’s impressive.”


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