NEW YORK — Joe Johnson and the Nets left Madison Square Garden for the last time this regular season, even with the Knicks in the series and right behind them in the standings.
Year One of a new rivalry for Brooklyn and New York is over — barring a post-season matchup — and Johnson thinks it lived up to expectations.
“You’ve got two teams in New York. They want to be the top dogs. We want to be the top dogs. It’s a battle. We split. We’ll see what happens next,” he said.
Johnson made the go-ahead jumper with 22 seconds left and scored 25 points, leading the Nets to an 88-85 victory over the Knicks on Monday and a split of the four games between the city rivals.
Deron Williams added 14 points and 12 assists for the Nets, who cut the Knicks’ Atlantic Division lead to one game. Brook Lopez had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Kris Humphries came off the bench for 11 points and 13 boards.
Brooklyn won the first matchup, and then New York took the next two and opened a huge lead in the standings that the Nets have spent most of the last month wiping away.
“Big game tonight! The Garden got really quiet on the way out!” Humphries posted on Twitter.
Carmelo Anthony had 29 points and seven assists for the Knicks, but missed all six shots in the fourth quarter and finished 11 of 29 for the game.
J.R. Smith scored 16 points and Amare Stoudemire 15.
“It’s over. We don’t see them anymore, but it is the beginning of something that’s going to be here for a long, long time.” Anthony said. “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.”
There’s still the hope of a playoff battle in the spring, both teams well positioned to reach the post-season.
“I think it’s a good rivalry right now. It’s a very good rivalry. It’s got the potential to be even better,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “That’s with a lot of friendships among the players and the coaching staffs. It’s really good for New York basketball.”
The Nets survived a pair of lengthy droughts in the second half but got 10 points in the final period from Johnson, who used to play for Knicks coach Mike Woodson in Atlanta and has become the player Brooklyn turns to for big shots in the clutch.
Anthony had his 26th straight 20-point game, tied with Stoudemire for third-longest streak in franchise history, but the Knicks were sluggish early in their first game since playing in London on Thursday and lost for the third straight time on Martin Luther King Day.
The Knicks led by three before consecutive 3-pointers by CJ Watson and Johnson gave Brooklyn a 78-75 lead. Smith scored, but then Johnson made another 3 and a jumper to extend the lead to 83-77 with 5:38 remaining before the Nets went cold again.