By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Reggie Evans and the Nets have bigger fish to fry than the New York Knicks.
"We're not just interested in being the best team in New York. We want to win championships!" Brooklyn's 6-foot-8, 245-pound dynamo of a power forward intimated before the Nets even hit the court for their city landscape-changing 96-89 victory over the Knicks Monday night in front of a national television audience and a bi-partisan sellout crowd of 17,732 at Downtown's Barclays Center.
Evans, perhaps more than any Net, exemplified his team's determination to emerge victorious from the first-ever "Clash of the Boroughs" at the state-of-the-art-arena on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
He grabbed an eye-popping 14 rebounds in only 18 minutes, including six on the offensive end, on a night the Nets needed to outhustle and outmuscle their East River rivals to forge a tie atop the Atlantic Division standings with identical 9-4 records.
"We went with Reggie more as a backup [center] tonight. He provides energy and his offensive rebounds kept us in the game," gushed Nets coach Avery Johnson, who watched his club outscore the Knicks, 12-5, during the five-minute extra session.
Evans has pulled down at least 10 rebounds off the bench in three straight games and four of the last five overall for the Nets, who improved to 7-1 at home this season with their sixth consecutive victory in front of the Brooklyn faithful -- the franchise's longest such streak since Dec. 5-23, 2003.
On a team laden with budding star power, including $100 million point guard Deron Williams, sharpshooter Joe Johnson and hulking center Brook Lopez, it was Evans' true grit beneath the glass and on the defensive end that ultimately undid the Knicks, who got a game-high 35 points from Brooklyn-born forward Carmelo Anthony.
"We really turned up our defense in overtime," added coach Johnon. "I had to remind the guys that one of the big points of emphasis coming into the game was guarding the 3-point line. We had a high rating on defense in overtime and the fourth quarter."
Evans, who is averaging 8.5 boards per game for the Atlantic Division co-leaders through 13 games, was a pest throughout the much-anticipated contest, which was originally scheduled as the Nets' season opener on Nov. 1 before the chaos that followed Superstorm Sandy forced the well-chronicled postponement.
He was constantly first to any loose balls or stray rebounds that may have tilted the game back in favor of the Knicks, who were eager to spoil what was ultimately an historic night in the blossoming rivalry.
Almost 15 years to the day of this great matchup, the Knicks and Nets were also deadlocked for the top spot in the division at 10-5. Now, they'll have to contend with the rest of the NBA until renewing their local blood feud Dec. 11 right back here in Brooklyn.
"Everytime someone started to cheer [for the Knicks], our fan contingent got louder," coach Johnson noted. "This is what we dreamed about."
Williams quarterbacked the offense to near-perfection, amassing 16 points, 14 assists and three steals while taking advantage of a Knicks backcourt which was without former Nets point guard Jason Kidd due to lower back spasms.
"Jay does a lot for them. He's one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game," Williams said. "I thought it was a big game in general for us. It's hard to deny the atmosphere around this game. It was definitely an exciting game for us. The fans have been great all year. They were loud this whole game. Last year, all the chants were for [the Knicks]. This is what we talked about, it's a dream realized. It was a playoff-type atmosphere. It was a great game to be a part of. But it's just one game. So we can't just be excited that we're the best team in New York for one day."
Lopez finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots, continuing to prove general manager Billy King was wise to hold on to the longest-tenured Net after a summer of dangling him as potential trade bait in a blockbuster deal for Dwight Howard that never came to pass.
"It was a great game for the fans," the 7-foot Stanford alum said. "Two great teams. I thought it was great. We really kept our composure. It was a a big test for us. I think it was [bigger than a regular game]. It would be hard to say no to that. The fans did their part. This will be a fun game everytime out. We're going to continue to get better each and every game."
Like Evans, veteran guard Jerry Stackhouse, who poured in 14 points off the bench, was adamant that the win over the Knicks was simply another building block in what the Nets are trying to achieve here in Brooklyn going forward.
"It was a great win for us," Stackhouse said. "There's a lot of hype around this game, obviously. Fans came out and were cheering for us tonight. They were our sixth man. The [Knicks] had a lot of fans here too, but I thought it was a Brooklyn crowd. It's more about us growing and getting somewhere further down the road. It's not just about tonight. There's a lot of basketball to be played."
The Nets will be in Boston on Wednesday night to take on five-time defending Atlantic Division champion Boston, hoping for a repeat of their 102-97 home victory over the Celtics on Nov. 15. They'll head to Beantown secure in the knowledge that they've passed one of their biggest tests as a Brooklyn-based franchise, defending their home court against their chief rivals.
They also have a new chant for Nets fans to add to their repertoire, along with the haunting, taunting "Brook-lyn!" cry that filled Barclays Center for most of Monday's epic showdown: "Reg-gie!, Reg-gie!"
Hoop du Jour: After visiting the Celtics, the Nets will be in Orlando Friday night seeking their third consecutive victory over the Magic this season. On Dec. 1, the Nets will wrap up their three-game trip at the home of the defending NBA champion Miami Heat, who bested Brooklyn 103-73 in South Beach on Nov. 7. ... Anthony, who played a staggering 50 minutes and clearly showed signs of fatigue down the stretch and in overtime, wasn't dismissive of the blossoming city rivalry, especially since he was born not far from the Nets' arena in Red Hook. 'They're across the bridge," he said. "They're here in Brooklyn. We're in the city. They're in the same division, the same sports town. I guess you can say this started something." ... Monday marked the first time a pro sports franchise from Brooklyn met one from New York since Sept. 8, 1957 when the Dodgers took on the Giants at the old Polo Grounds. ... ''I don't think it's so much of a Duke-North Carolina rivalry yet, but hopefully one day it'll get there," said coach Johnson of the Knicks-Nets feud.
Brooklyn-born Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony scored 35 points in Monday night's Clash of the Boroughs at Barclays Center, but the Nets emerged with a 96-89 overtime victory.