For years – from a basketball perspective – Manhattan had been making it, but last night in the first true 'battle of the boroughs', Brooklyn proceeded taking it. It's just one game from 82-game schedule, and as Nets point guard Deron Williams noted, "We didn’t win the championship of New York. We won a game, and it was a great win for us.” But, for a team so desperately trying to stake it's claim in the Mecca of hoops, and to win over the hearts of basketball fans in East New York (and the rest of the city), the win meant so much more.
Yes, it was just another game on the schedule, but the battle signified the beginning of a new rivalry. Each team's fans were chanting from the beginning of the game, emanating around the arena similar to an English soccer stadium. For every "M-V-P' chant that those clad in orange-and-blue started for Carmelo Anthony, the Brooklyn crowd (which outnumbered the Knick faithful) countered with the, now-standard, "“Brook-lyn."
Anyone that experienced New Jersey Nets baskeball the past two seasons would testify that watching the enthused crowd back their team last night was truly something to behold. Williams, who had never experienced a losing season with the Utah Jazz before being traded to New Jersey, said it was a welcome change.
"It was great. The fans have been great all year. It's a total 180 from last year when it was mostly Knicks fans and all the chants [and cheers] were for them. It's great to feel we have that home court advantage finally," said Williams.
For all the work the Nets have put in promoting their brand since making the move over across the Hudson, it would all amount to zero if the losing ways at the Izod Center had carried over with them as well. A rivalry only truly exists when both teams are competitive: something that has not happened in New York for a while, possibly ever. The Knicks had been a moribund bunch for a decade until making the playoffs a couple of season ago, while the Nets – despite early 2000's success – had dropped off the NBA radar somewhat.
Brooklyn were well aware of that heading into last night's game. Territorial bragging rights were at stake.
As much as the Brooklyn players tried to downplay the significance of the battle the night before, they only had one thing in mind: upstage big brother with the whole nation watching. Nets coach Avery Johnson said his players set the tone for themselves from early in the day.
"I think it all started this morning. Just when we came in to watch film, guys were really early," Johnson said with a smile post-game. "Guys were really exceptionally early and locked into our video.I sensed it a little bit more as the game went on – Deron started to talk a little bit more, Gerald Wallce [blocking shots] and getting rebounds – so I sensed it a little bit more [but] it all started this morning."
The battle itself did not disappoint. In true New York-style basketball the game was hard fought, defensive, and physical. There were 14 lead changes, and when the Knicks took it to their cross-town rival the Nets didn't falter, they're still evolving as a group and with each game they grow as a team.
"We were ready for this game," said Williams, who finished with 14 points and 14 assists. "A lof fun, a lot of energy. It's been anticipated for 10 years now."
The first claim as the city's best has been staked, the Nets proving themselves a worthy opponent in a war between two new rivals. The Knicks get another couple of cracks at Brooklyn next month – one of those within the confines of Madison Square Garden – giving you the feeling that this battle for New York City is only just beginning.