By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Believe the hype!
Those who sneered at the idea that Knicks-Nets would become the city's latest version of Giants-Dodgers or Islanders-Rangers or Rangers-Devils or Jets-Giants or Mets-Yankees have to be biting their lips after the Clash of the Borough's reached an all-too-early conclusion with Brooklyn's thrilling 88-85 Martin Luther King Day matinee triumph over New York at Madison Square Garden.
This is no "Fugazy" rivalry, as evidenced by the reaction of the once full-throated sellout crowd of 19,033 at "The World's Most Famous Arena" moments after the Nets walked off the Garden floor with a 2-2 split of the first-ever regular-season East River series.
"It got awful quiet in the Garden," Nets power forward Kris Humphries gleefully noted after putting up 11 points and 13 rebounds while taking his usual earful of abuse from those supporting the blue-and-orange. "[They were shouting] everything under the sun at me."
Of course, the former Mr. Kardashian is used to all the negative attention, but the irritation and ire among Knicks and Nets players is also becoming palpable.
After Joe Johnson shot down the Knicks' hopes of winning the season series by draining a clutch 15-footer to give Brooklyn the lead for good with 22 seconds remaining, J.R. Smith couldn't help but take to Twitter, where he posted the following in response to Humphries' assessment of the noise level at the Garden: "Wasn't quiet when Kanye tore it down last month!"
Even Red Hook native Carmelo Anthony, who managed only two points during the decisive fourth quarter after torching the Nets for 27 over the first three periods, admitted that Knicks-Nets isn't a rivalry built on billboards and social media anymore.
"It is the beginning of something that's going to be here for a long, long time.'' Anthony admitted. ''These games that we play against Brooklyn are definitely going to be tough, hard battles and as a Knick, we definitely look forward to that challenge and look forward to playing them four times.''
Only four times Melo?
Come playoff time, pending both teams' qualificaton, the Knicks and Nets could give New York it's first legitimate subway series since the Yanks and Mets battled for the World Series crown in 2000. According to Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo, whose record at the helm swelled to a gaudy 11-2 since taking over for Avery Johnson in late December, less is not more in this budding local blood feud.
"We hope to see them again," Carlesimo said. "I think it's a good rivalry right now. It's a very good rivalry. It's got the potential to be even better,''
That potential was on display in all but one of the first four meetings.
The Nets fired the historic opening salvo in the rivalry back on Nov. 26 at Barclays Center -- a game that was delayed several weeks following the havoc that Hurricane Sandy wrought on our city earlier that month. Veteran sharpshooter Jerry Stackhouse nailed several big 3-pointers as the Nets pulled out a 96-89 overtime victory.
On Dec. 11, the Knicks evened the series as former Net Jason Kidd buried his former team with a tiebreaking 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation, killing any hopes of a home sweep for Brooklyn on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
An easy 100-86 victory for New York over Brooklyn at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19 was the least compelling of this year's meetings, but the humbling loss may have paved the way for Johnson's firing just over a week later.
Then came Monday's MLK classic on 34th Street.
Despite committing 19 turnovers and squandering a seven-point lead down the stretch, the Nets proved they were worthy of sharing the bright NYC spotlight with the old guard thanks to Johnson's third game-winning shot of the season. The six-time All-Star from Atlanta injected himself into the rivalry last summer during a pep rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall, insisting that the Nets were the best team in the five boroughs.
Johnson lived up to his words with a team-high 25 points Monday, spearheading the Nets to a 12-of-24 long-range shooting effort by draining 5-of-8 three-balls.
"That’s Joe Johnson," Carlesimo gushed following his first Knicks-Nets battle as head coach. "Joe Johnson’s a heckuva player. He hit one earlier where we really needed it coming out of a timeout, at the top of the key. He’s a money player, he’s been a money player his whole career."
"It's a confidence booster," Johnson said of earning the season series split. "We've come a long way. We're still trying to get better. I'm just ecstatic to be a part of this franchise. We'll see what's next."
What's next for both of these squads is a battle for Atlantic Division supremacy, albeit without another regular-season showdown. The Knicks (25-14) hold an ever-slimming one-game lead over the Nets (25-16) with half a season to go. Though checking the standings each day isn't nearly as exciting as watching these teams go head-to-head on the court, it certainly isn't a long shot that they'll see each other again come April, or even May.
After all, no one can be satisfied with a split.
"[Going] 2-2 against them stinks," said Smith. "It's like kissing your sister."
• • •
Hoop du Jour: C Brook Lopez continued to prove himself All-Star worthy Monday, scoring 14 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking four shots. "We knew this game was big," said Lopez, who should be named an All-Star reserve later this month. "They got us on our home floor and we wanted to prove we could play in Madison Square Garden against them. I think we played well tonight." ... G Deron Williams finished with 14 points and 12 assists against the Knicks. "This is a big win for us," the $100 million point guard admitted. "This was a big game to tie this thing up, this being Martin Luther King Day against the Knicks. This was a huge win." ... After leaving the Garden with their big win, the Nets headed off on a three-game road trip that will see them make stops in Humphries' native Minnesota on Wednesday, Memphis on Friday and Houston on Saturday night. Brooklyn returns to the Barclays Center next Monday to host Orlando before the defending world champion Miami Heat arrive downtown on Jan. 30.