Julius Randle and the New York Knicks blew a golden opportunity to beat the hobbling Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets’ Big 3 was reduced to only one superstar in Kyrie Irving after James Harden joined Kevin Durant at the sidelines with a hamstring soreness four minutes into the game. Blake Griffin also took an off night in the second game of a back-to-back schedule.
No problem for the Nets.
Irving carried the offensive load with a 40-point masterpiece while his supporting cast clawed and scrapped to complete their comeback and regular-season sweep of the Knicks, 114-112, on Monday night at the Barclays Center.
It went down to the last possession again.
Unlike in their previous meeting, Randle didn’t lose the handle this time and got his shot off. But it still didn’t matter as he muffed a potential game-tying jumper at the buzzer.
Irving’s 40-point basket, a three-pointer, over Elfrid Payton with one minute left gave the Nets a five-point cushion.
The Knicks, though, refused to fold up easily.
Randle’s two free throws and an Alec Burks’ three tied the game with 26 seconds remaining.
Irving had plenty of help to get the job done.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot tipped a Joe Harris’ miss to Jeff Green who drew a foul from Reggie Bullock.
Green calmly sank the marginal free throws, then challenged Randle’s last shot on the other end to send the Nets to their third win in as many games against the Knicks this season.
It was a hard pill to swallow for the Knicks, who blew a 14-point lead.
The undermanned Nets clawed their way back by crashing the boards. They held a 45-41 rebounding advantage and grabbed 11 in the offensive glass. The Nets parlayed that advantage to 26 second-chance points.
In contrast, the Knicks only had five offensive rebounds and just two second-chance points.
Green added 23 points, nine coming off free throws, while Harris contributed 16 and eight rebounds for the Nets.
The heartbreaking loss pushed the Knicks down to one game below .500 (25-26) and the eighth spot in the East.
The Knicks will continue their uphill climb on Wednesday with a face-off against the streaking Boston Celtics (25-25), who momentarily climbed to seventh place.
Randle finished with his fourth triple-double of the season and his third in the last 12 games. But his 19-15-12 stats line was dimmed by his inability to rise when the game was on the line. He is now 1-for-7 when the Knicks are tied or trailing by three in the final 30 seconds of a game this season, according to Daily News’ Stefan Bondy.
It was a sorry loss for the Knicks, who countered the Nets’ Big 3 talks with Randle and Bullock, boldly saying they have ‘Big 15’.
They walked the talk for three-fourths of the way until Irving and his scrappy Nets closed the third quarter with a 14-2 run to take an 89-88 lead.
The Knicks built a 10-point halftime lead behind Reggie Bullock and Derrick Rose’s hot hands and Randle’s superb playmaking.
Randle already had a near triple-double (11 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists) in the first half, while Bullock fired 16 of his 21 points and Rose had 15.
Irving and Green sparked the Nets’ comeback in the third with 21 combined points.
RJ Barrett finished with 22, including big baskets in the fourth quarter.
Before the game, Barrett said he couldn’t wait for his next chance to take a last-second shot. His remarks were in response to Minnesota rookie Anthony Edwards mocking him for missing at the end of their narrow loss against the Timberwolves last week.
While Barrett had the hot hands in the fourth quarter for the Knicks with seven points, he didn’t earn the last shot.
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