Nets v. Knicks in the 2009 finale

I’m not going to lie… heading into the 4th quarter - but still with a comfortable lead - I was sweating bullets. Time and time again this season, we’ve seen the Nets invent ways to lose contests - whether it be through a lack of focus, a lack of confidence, or a lack of hustle on both ends in crunch-time situations. For me (and Pmac too, I’m guessing), there’s always a degree of nervous energy surrounding the tri-state derby.

Unlike the last two encounters however, the nervous energy surrounding this game was spawned by excitement (from within the Nets’ camp). Yi has looked like a completely different beast since his return from injury. When I say completely different, I mean completely different. He’s no longer the passive, un-sure, un-willing passenger he seemed to be in his first couple of years in the league. He’s now a bonafide starting-calibre power forward in the NBA with a game to cause headaches for any defense. Today’s game showed just how far his game has evolved. He’s now looking to score in the paint first (before even contemplating a perimeter shot), he’s crashing the boards, and he’s blocking shots like a seven-foot player should. In fact, his inside game has come along so well since his return that Kiki and Del have had the dilemma of trying to find shots for both Yi and Brook. Yi’s recent play has demanded it. Because of this, over the last couple of games, Brook has struggled to maintain his consistency. His scoring and rebounding efficiency has dropped away. Why, then, is this not a cause for concern? Because Brook’s confidence in his own ability should just about always see him through any slump… just like it did tonight. Del, Kiki - take note. From now until the end of the season, the offense must be run through Harris (obviously), Lopez, and Yi. Not Harris, Lee, and Douglas-Roberts. That’s not to say the effort from the two sophomore swingmen hasn’t been admirable, but compared to what the tandem of Lopez and Yi bring to the table, it just isn’t as conducive to success. Yi has been labelled a draft bust by many throughout his career to date, and until recently, it was hard to mount an argument to the contrary. He was shown a tremendous amount of faith by the Bucks in being drafted so early in the lottery and he simply hadn’t delivered in his first couple of seasons. Now, he’s showing just what the Bucks hoped he would, albeit for them, 2 years too late.

I’m trying to keep my composure in writing this post. Afterall, I’m writing about a 3-29 outfit that’s still mathematically favoured to snatch the dubious “worst team of all time” title away from that god-awful 9-73 Philadelphia 76ers team. Thing is though, with this win, a new leaf looks to have been turned. The Knicks of season 09/10 - so far - have actually impressed. They’ve overachieved in my mind, certainly. Until tonight’s game, the last time they gave up more than 100 points was on December the 4th. This is the Knicks we’re talking about… thought of, instantly, as a defensive laughing stock. However, their current playoff-contending position in the Eastern Conference standings indicates just how competitive this side has been - despite the questionable decision making of Mike D’Antoni and myriad of issues surrounding arguably the team’s best player, Nate Robinson.

The Knicks were always going to produce offensive bursts tonight (by the likes of David Lee, Al Harrington, and Wilson Chandler) that would be enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most confident Nets fan (if he still exists), and they did, but through heart, determination, and the arrival on to the NBA scene of Yi Jianlian; Kiki Vandeweghe’s group of rag tag misfits not only weathered the storm, they made it through to the other side to see light on the formerly bleak horizon.

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