The Nets have stolen the NBA’s imagination and even stole Wednesday’s game on national television against the Knicks.
Imagine when their whole superteam — and not just Kevin Durant — shows up at the Garden next time.
The Knicks couldn’t even defend Brooklyn Lite. They were the Brooklyn Nine after making a four-team blockbuster trade to add a third superstar in James Harden, and they still ran over the Knicks, 116-109, at the empty Garden.
Of course, Durant still was on the court, and in his first game against the Knicks since spurning them in July 2019, pumped home 26 points in 30 minutes — 12 in the third quarter. Durant hit 10 of 18 shots — including three of five from 3-point range.
The Garden wasn’t totally empty. Owner James Dolan, who no longer sits in his baseline seat next to the Knicks’ bench during the pandemic season, viewed the mess from the second row of the 100-level at center court. This one had to sting the owner after watching Durant’s pull-up jumpers and his club lose their fourth straight to fall to 5-7.
Harden will arrive soon, but the Nets were without Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) and the players they traded — Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs.
Nets coach Steve Nash was unable to comment on the reported trade other than to say “we know this is a star’s league.’’
Julius Randle continued to play like one as he battered the Nets for 30 points and five assists but had no help. RJ Barrett, who didn’t have a field goal in the first half and missed his first six shots, came on too late and finished with 20 points.
Durant punctuated a late 15-2 run with a steal and fastbreak layup in the final minute to give the Nets a 61-45 halftime lead. He scored on the game’s first possession and was graceful at the Garden in the Nets’ white uniforms.
Randle was again sensational with 12 first-quarter points, scoring four straight baskets — two straight from 3-point range, one top of the key jumper and a fallaway in the lane.
The Nets committed just one turnover in the first half. Sharpshooter Joe Harris scored 15 points, hitting three 3-pointers. Nets guard Bruce Brown looked a whole lot more effective and speedier than Barrett with 15 points and 14 rebounds. On one play, he outraced the Knicks defense for a fastbreak layup.
To make matters worse, Nets second-round pick, power forward Reggie Perry, was called upon and scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Perry, of Mississippi State, was taken 57th in November’s draft. The Knicks could have had the 33rd pick, but traded it in a complex deal for a 2023 second-rounder because they felt there was no room on their roster.
Trailing by 18 with 3:23 left, the Knicks made a late push to make the final score look competitive than it actually was.