Nets survive and advance to first round
Brooklyn tops Cleveland for spot in Eastern quarterfinals
The Nets played so well down the stretch that they earned themselves a couple of shots at a spot in a postseason series.
They only needed one.
Kyrie Irving scored 34 points and Kevin Durant added 25 as Brooklyn’s superstar tandem paved the way for a 115-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday in the opening game of the NBA’s play-in tournament before a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“You can’t give a team like Brooklyn that has championship aspirations and players who have won championships a 22-point lead,” Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff lamented after watching his team lose their first chance at a true playoff spot.
“Again, give our guys credit for getting back in it. But that’s damn near impossible to overcome.”
While Cleveland waits to host the winner of the Charlotte-Atlanta play-in for the No. 8 seed, the Nets (1-0) are sitting pretty in the No. 7 slot, earning a best-of-7 vs. the Boston Celtics, whom they beat in five games during last year’s opening round.
“I know that team very well and they know us very well and it’ll be a back and forth,” said Irving, who came to Brooklyn after a turbulent tenure in Beantown.
“And once you throw that ball in the air, you’re going to really see some spectacular basketball.”
Brooklyn lost three of four to Boston during the regular season.
But the Nets have been buoyed by Irving’s recent shooting exploits — he made all nine of his shots in the first half Tuesday en route to a 12-of-15 performance from the field — as well as Durant’s skills of facilitation.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP had 11 assists vs. Cleveland and Irving had 12.
The unselfishness resulted in a balanced scoring effort with Bruce Brown pouring in 18 points, Andre Drummond putting up 16 and Nic Claxton adding 13 off the bench for the Nets, who will be in Boston for Game 1 on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.
“It ain’t going to be that easy,” Durant noted.
Neither has anything else this season for a Nets team that is finally in a best-of-7 and ready to seriously pursue the franchise’s first-ever NBA crown.
NOTHING BUT NET: Now that they are in the playoffs fully, the Nets can begin hoping that Ben Simmons, the main player acquired in the trade-deadline deal that sent James Harden to Philadelphia in February, can participate. The mercurial playmaker has been out since last May, when he cited mental health concerns as the reason he could no longer play for the 76ers. Simmons has been slowed by a herniated disk in recent weeks, but Nets head coach Steve Nash updated his status for the next round. “So definitely positive signs, improving and moving and all those things, but like I said he hasn’t been running full speed or playing against anybody,” Nash revealed. “So still a lot of markers to meet.” … Prior to a moment of silence before Tuesday’s play-in, the Nets and the New York Liberty Foundation announced that they were donating $50,000 to help those affected by the subway shootout earlier in the day. The 36th Street station, where the incident occurred, is the stop nearest to the Nets’ HSS Training Center in Sunset Park.
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