Less than a year ago, Kyrie Irving entered Madison Square Garden in a jersey and was showered with love by the Knicks fans.
"We want Kyrie," they sang last February when Irving led the Celtics to victory over the Knicks.
Sunday the garden will finally get Kyrie, albeit in a mesh uniform, and the reception will likely be much more hostile.
"I think it's going crazy," Damyean Dotson said Saturday after the Knicks practiced. "However, it's not like he's going back to Boston … I think it's going to be pretty stupid."
Irving was the first time the Nets visited the Garden this season with a shoulder injury outside, a 103-101 Brooklyn win November 24th. The Point Guard was only healthy for one of his three showdowns this season when he scored 26 points in A 113-109 Nets win in the second game of the year at the Barclays Center.
But Sunday will certainly be different. Irving will be playing in the garden for the first time since he spurned the Knicks in the free agency last summer.
"The atmosphere was crazy all week, so no question, it will be a super ecstatic atmosphere," said Brooklyn-based Taj Gibson, referring to games against the 76s, Lakers and Raptors in the garden. "Hopefully we can achieve the same intensity and make a tough decision."
What is the key to the nets on Sunday in the garden?
"Rest as best we can. Take care of our body in the morning. Get ready to play, ”said Irving after 45 points and led the Nets to a 121:11 victory over the Pistons on Saturday. “Of course we know that they play very differently at home. Still, it's Brooklyn versus New York. And we understand that. It will be a pretty fast game.
"The crowd will get involved. You are looking forward to that. "
The Knicks have not been able to play tough games lately and have lost close matches against all three powerhouses in the past week. They fell out against the 76ers last Saturday with a defeat of 90: 87, had no petrol against the Lakers on Wednesday and fell 100: 92, then the Raptors were no longer able to do so in the last minute on Friday with a defeat of 118: 112 stop them.
Less than a year after their fans dreamed of Irving and Kevin Durant landing, the Knicks lost 10 out of 12 and dropped to 12-34 in an increasingly lost season. But they hope to save the last game against their rivals last season.
"We think we can win this game," said Marcus Morris, Irving's former Celtics team-mate. "They fought, we fought, so I know there will be a lot of excitement. Obviously Brooklyn is against the Knicks, so there will be a lot of excitement." I am looking forward to this game and the fact that the crowd is being played up. It will be a real dogfight. "
The Nets had lost five games in a row on Saturday before defeating the Pistons in overtime. However, they remain confident of what they can achieve when they are up to date. Irving has missed 27 games due to injury – first his shoulder, then his Achilles tendon – but it remains a threat that no other player like the Knicks has.
Meanwhile, the Knicks have relied heavily on the seasoned free agents they signed up with last summer after missing Irving and Durant. They could be in motion until the close on February 6, opening more minutes for their younger players, most of whom have taken steps back this season.
But first, there is a Sunday and an opportunity for the Knicks to finally break their recent trend of showing up just briefly.
"[The Nets are] Just like any other team in the East at the bottom, ”said Gibson. “A lot of teams are really fighting, a lot of teams are really just trying to overcome their humps. Still, they're all talented NBA players. Trust is the key. We try to get out there and fight and win hard. I feel like we've been knocking on the door lately and playing against some talented teams. The next step is to try to get through that door and make a profit. "
– Additional reporting from Brian Lewis