The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, 115-108, to advance to the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Play-In Tournament victory officially sets up a first-round series against the Celtics that begins Sunday.
In a game the Nets never trailed, a 22-point collapse seemed possible but Brooklyn held on, got the job done, did what was needed and concluded the contest with “We want Boston” chants ringing from the soldout Barclays Center crowd (17,732).
“We have a different team. I’m really impressed with the Celtics, and the job Ime [Udoka] has done. They’ve been able to build on that continuity and that group has been together for quite a while. They made some tweaks and adjustments that have really improved their team on both ends of the floor. It’ll be a great challenge for us,” said Steve Nash looking ahead to facing the Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. “For a new group to play a team like that’s terrific on both ends is going to be something that hopefully brings out the best in us.”
Kyrie Irving put on a show, registering a double-double of a game-high-tying 34 points (12-of-15 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 shooting from 3-Point range) and 11 assists in 42 minutes of play.
Irving also recorded one steal and a team-high four turnovers in the win. Kevin Durant followed with a double-double of 25 points (9-of-16 shooting from the field and 1-of-2 shooting from behind the arc) as well as 11 assists, with two steals, three blocks, and only one turnover in 42 minutes.
It was the first time this season that both Durant and Irving recorded 10+ assists in the same contest.
“As advertised, they’re superstars. That’s what top, top players do,” said Nash on his superstar duo’s play over the last few games.”
Bruce Brown, who’s become the Nets’ third most important player, finished with another near triple-double of 18 points, nine boards, and eight assists in 40 minutes. Andre Drummond came close to a double-double with 16 points and eight rebounds.
The Nets bench was led by Nic Claxton, who delivered 13 points, nine rebounds, and one assist in 29 minutes. The bench totaled 22 points for Brooklyn. Overall, Brooklyn recorded 33 assists on 45 field goals.
“We knew they were going to throw a lot of different defenses at us to slow us down. We talked about it yesterday, I think guys were making themselves available and being aggressive when they got the ball and made the extra pass; 33 assists [against Cavs]. In the fourth quarter, I thought they were committing two to the ball regardless, leaving the rim wide open,” Durant said. “We got one of the most athletic guys in the league over the rim in Nic [Claxton]. We forced them into a lot of 2-on-1 situations. I like our chances in that.”
The Nets started Irving, Seth Curry, Durant, Brown, and Drummond against the Cavaliers.
Brooklyn took care of the ball early and found a rhythm on the offensive end early without getting Durant involved.
Meanwhile, Cleveland targeted the paint early, getting the ball to Evan Mobley to spark their offense. At the 7:12 mark of the first, the Nets commanded a 15-7 lead.
Claxton and Mills were the first Nets off the bench for the Nets. Brooklyn began to gather some separation shortly after, getting out in transition and building a nine-point lead (23-14) with 3:52 left.
It got real ugly for the overly-energetic Cavaliers to end the opening quarter.
Irving paved the way with 11 first-quarter points, and Brooklyn finished out the final three minutes of play on a 17-6 burst to take a 20-point lead.
After one, the scoreboard read 40-20. It looked like it could turn into a blowout, but Cleveland had other ideas.
The Cavaliers took advantage of Durant being on the bench to start the second.
Cleveland went on a 9-2 burst to slice the deficit to 13 before the Nets superstar came off the bench at the 7:37 mark. Ironically, it was Brooklyn’s defense that kept the lead standing strong.
The Cavaliers went cold and so did the Nets, who scored only six points in five minutes until Irving’s topped off the first half in style. The guard nailed a tough buzzer-beater near the baseline to put Brooklyn up 57-43 at the break.
Irving put together a spectacular first half, scoring 20 points on perfect 9-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 shooting from 3-Point range.
His 9-for-9 first half is the second most consecutive field goals made in a first half by a Net in franchise history.
Durant followed with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field, while Brooklyn’s bench combined for 11 points.