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NEW YORK — For the first time since they both spurned the New York Knicks and joined forces with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2019, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving played together inside Madison Square Garden and helped lead their team to a 110-98 victory over a Knicks team that many New Yorkers wanted them to join.
After it was over, both players acknowledged how much fun they had in the environment and are hopeful the rivalry between the teams will continue to blossom through the years.
“You know how much Knicks fans don’t like us. Especially now in this era of the Nets, us not choosing the Knicks, me and Kyrie, so it definitely adds something to the rivalry,” Durant said after racking up a triple-double with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds on Wednesday night. “No matter who is on the team, I think it will always be like that in the city. So it’s good to be a part of this, it’s a fun rivalry, hopefully it continues to build and we get more and more animosity between the fan bases. It’s only good for the game.”
Both Durant and Irving said they still hear from angry Knicks fans about their decision, especially on social media.
“Imagine the tweets I’ve been getting since I decided to come to the Nets, from Knick fans,” Durant said with a smile. “Always love at the games, but it’s a good rivalry to be a part of. Everybody who steps in our building are going to realize how big these games are.”
Irving had a brief exchange with a couple of fans on his way back into the locker room at the end of the first half, but said he enjoys the passion from the New York fan base.
“East Coast basketball at its finest,” Irving said. “People just yelling random s— from the crowd. Want a reaction, they got one.”
The Nets clawed all the way back from a 21-point deficit and now sit two wins away from locking up the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and hosting a play-in tournament game against the No. 8 seed early next week. Both Durant and Irving enjoyed the passion the game brought out from each team’s fan base.
“I’ve dealt with this kind of East Coast type of attitude in games since I was 7-8 years old,” said Irving, who grew up in New Jersey.
After finishing his pregame routine, Durant playfully told a couple of young kids dressed in Knicks jerseys that they needed to “take those jerseys off,” then posed for pictures with several Knicks fans while holding up the “Nets” part of his T-shirt.
“It fires everybody up,” Durant said of the rivalry. “No matter the records, no matter who’s on the court, no matter who the coaches are, I feel like it’s always going to be one of those games — a tough physical game, 48 minutes, no matter what, it’s going to be played hard. … I think it’s just going to build our own basketball culture here in the city, which is going to be fun — Knicks and Nets fans, and at the end of the day it’s all New York. But it’s good to have that rivalry.”
Durant said that in real life fans are usually respectful of his decision, but he still hears from jilted Knicks fans about the choice he made, particularly on social media.
“It’s all fun at the end of the day, it’s all funny, but people respect my decision, they respect my game,” Durant said. “But I understand how big Knicks-Nets is in the city, so I’m just trying to embrace it.”
Irving seems to enjoy some of the exchanges he has had, and seen, on social media with Knicks fans. So what does he tell them when asked why he chose the Nets over the Knicks?
“I really don’t give an explanation,” Irving said. “You guys know me. I throw darts in the air and just wait for people to assume whatever they want. Am I lying? What could he possibly be talking about?”
Irving added: “I think it’s all in good fun. They had a good chance of getting us back in free agency, but we just felt like we just wanted to build here and make our mark on this franchise, and I don’t think we regret our decision. And we just want to live with really leaning on each other and making sure this is successful for us.”
When told by a reporter how dominant he had been through the years against the Knicks, with his last loss against them coming in 2013 as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant offered another smile and fist pump at the podium.
“I got something to talk about on Twitter now,” Durant said.