The Brooklyn Nets are officially the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn won its ninth straight game, extending the association’s longest active winning streak with a 125-117 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Nets’ streak is the longest winning streak in franchise history since 2005-06 — when Jacque Vaughn was the backup point guard — and Brooklyn is the league-best at 10-1 in December. The win was also the team’s 20th since Vaughn took over the team in early November and the Nets were in 10th place.
Perhaps more importantly, the Nets ruined the narrative that they can’t beat good teams, repelling the Warriors, Bucks and Cavs in a week.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving each lost 32 points to join Bostonians Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as the only pair of teammates to have five 30-point performances in season play this young NBA season. Irving’s seven threes was a season high, and despite being fouled late in the fourth round for the first time in his tenure with the Nets, Durant made five threes. Between the two Superstars, they were 21 of 37 combined, including 12 of 19 from deep.
TJ Warren was also exceptional off the bench, dropping a season-high 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting and a season-high 8 rebounds in 27 minutes (which was also a season-high). It was the highest score in exactly two years. The 6’9-inch forward scored 23 goals for the Pacers on December 26, 2020 before a series of foot injuries sidelined him until December 2 of this year.
Darius Garland shot all points with a paltry 46 points and fueled the Cavaliers’ comeback in the fourth quarter.
Brooklyn’s shooting splits were outrageous; The Nets shot 57.1% from the field and a whopping 60.0% from three, their second best long-range effort this season behind just 63.6% outside shots in the field 143-113 win about the Golden State Warriors. That ridiculous shot performance made up for the points discrepancy in the suit, which Cleveland led 48-34 when the final buzzer sounded.
Bottom line was that the box score lines didn’t tell the full extent of the game’s story. Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton didn’t give him big offensive numbers, but Simmons never let Donovan Mitchell get started, and Claxton had the same effect on Allen. As Claxton noted of his former teammate after the game, “I have a lot of experience playing him,” referring to the season and a half the two played with the Nets. Mitchell finished with a 5-of-16 shooting line and 15 points, about half his season average of 28.9, while Allen had five shots for the game and only made two.
Both teams showed early on why they are top defenders. Brooklyn’s frontcourts, Simmons and Nic Claxton, started a combined 1-of-4 from the field against Cleveland’s gargantuan duo of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. The Nets, meanwhile, completely ignored a low-percentage outside shooter Lamar Stevens to clog Cleveland’s lanes.
Luckily, the Nets found their rhythm on offense behind some absurd shots from Royce O’Neale, Durant and Warren, who hit a three and an absurd 1 finish. Ben Simmons also made an exceptional start thanks to his excellent central defense and presence on the offensive glass, and the Cavs shot just 36.4% from the field as a team in the quarter. Overall, the Nets got off to a great start, leading 34-22 after one.
The Cavaliers opened the second quarter on an 11-6 run, with Kevin Durant sitting to reduce Brooklyn’s lead to seven. There were a few funny moments as Brooklyn’s past center Allen went head-to-head against its future center Claxton. Allen attempted to post Allen on one end and missed badly after Claxton righted him. and at the other end, Allen’s Claxton with zip for a beautiful finish to the glass. It was such a night.
Still, Brooklyn struggled to score on just 10 points for most of the quarter until Jacque Vaughn fielded a small-ball lineup of Durant, Irving, Warren, O’Neale and Simmons to break the scoring drought. It worked. Nice. Brooklyn went on an 18-4 run to close the half. Irving tied three 3-pointers and a long two for 11 points in under four minutes. Brooklyn went into the break with a 15-point lead and a 64-49 lead, the biggest halftime lead of the season on the road.
Cleveland fought back to start the third. An 8-0 run cut Brooklyn’s lead to 10. Brooklyn responded with a 10-3 run to bring the lead back to 15 points after two threes from Durant. When the Cavaliers went out with a zone defense, Brooklyn promptly poked holes in cover with his powerful shots and smashes. The Nets went into the fourth quarter with a 91-79 lead.
The fourth quarter was the Kyrie Irving show. Irving accumulated seven points in under two minutes to put Brooklyn 19 points clear by just over 10 minutes. The plucky young Cavaliers didn’t walk away, however, going on a 17-7 run after Irving’s goal break. Durant didn’t care, as Ian Eagle put it on the YES show. He hit two 3-pointers and drew free throws against Evan Mobley for eight points.
Garland matched him on the other end. Garland accumulated 13 points in three minutes to cut Brooklyn’s lead to nine. By the 4:07 mark in the fourth, Garland had already reached the 40 point mark. Things got particularly scary when KD fouled at the 1:54 mark in the fourth quarter. With only Irving on the floor to perform star duties, Cleveland threw a steady stream of double-teams at Brooklyn’s all-star point guard. The strategy worked as Brooklyn turned the ball around in midfield and then Irving traveled with just under a minute left in the game as the shot clock expired. This was their last stand.
Luckily, the nets did just enough to hold out. Kyrie Irving hit two free throws when Cedi Osman fouled him on the touchline and Claxton hit Garland’s layup to seal the game.
No curry, no harris, no problem
Seth Curry (43.71%) and Joe Harris (43.51%) are the two most accurate 3 point shooters in the game today. They also rank fourth and fifth all-time. Both were out in Cleveland Monday night, Curry with a non-COVID illness and Harris with persistent knee pain that will keep him out at least until Wednesday night’s game against the Hawks.
Yet even with his snipers, Brooklyn shot 60% (18 of 30) from beyond the arc, led by Kyrie Irving (7 of 11), Kevin Durant (5 of 8), Yuta Watanabe and Royce O’Neale (both 2 of 3) and TJ Warren (2 of 4). Overall, of the six players who shot deep in Cleveland, five hit better than 50%. Only Edmond Sumner (0-of-1) didn’t make it over the threshold. Nic Claxton, Ben Simmons and Patty Mills didn’t field one.
The Nets are now 12-0 if they shoot at least 40% from three.
The movie room
We warned you preseason. There was a very good chance that TJ Warren would become the offseason bargain. The prediction comes true.
As mentioned above, Warren from the bench was nothing short of exceptional. His 21 points in 27 minutes showed everything that makes him such a lethal goalscorer. He’s adept from the midrange, can launch short-range floaters, and can split the floor by going 2-of-4 from deep against the Cavaliers. He’s also a super savvy editor, making him the perfect complement alongside the star power of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, both of whom consistently attract an onslaught of doubles teams.
Perhaps most of all, Warren just has that incorrigible hard shot gene. Because of this, he was a starter during his last full playing season in Indiana (before missing two full years with foot surgery). They don’t call him the ‘bubble god‘ for nothing.
Seriously, his 6-10 foot touch is just ridiculous. Warren has shot a very solid 44.6% from 3-to-10 feet throughout his career and nailed shots like that pretty stepback two-pointer with regularity. In that regard, he’s a bit of a throwback, a short-middle-class mercenary, making him the perfect stopgap alongside the outstanding scoring talent and three-point shooting skills scattered throughout Brooklyn’s roster.
Many thought Sean Marks would never be better than signing Jeff Green for the minimum, who quickly became a fixture in Brooklyn’s lethal little unit alongside James Harden, Irving and Durant.
Warren, who also signed for the veteran’s minimum this offseason, could make her think twice.
Tonight is all about Kevin Durant!
Durant hit a 21-foot jump shot at the 5:07 mark of the second quarter. But this wasn’t just any long twosome. It put him 15th on the all-time scorer list, surpassing Tim Duncan’s 26,496 total career points. Next up is Dominique Wilkins with 26,668 total points.
This season, Durant has overtaken Alex English, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Paul Pierce and now Tim Duncan on the all-time scoring charts in just 34 games. Next up: Dominique Wilkins (26,668), who ironically was the only player before KD to make a full recovery from an Achilles tendon injury. With any luck, Durant could climb all the way up to 10th place this season.
“Definitely,” Durant said when asked about milestone appreciation. “You just want to show up every day, but at some point you have to celebrate small victories, just like a win [over the Cavaliers]. It’s cool to celebrate with your team.
“So my career to be able to pass you on to a great legend of all time, someone who changed and changed the game is something I’m going to call my people and talk about tonight and just remember how we got here came. So it’s pretty cool to do stuff like that and I want to celebrate those little things, but you know, keep pushing. I know I still have work to do.”
Durant also passed Kobe Bryant on the all-time 3-point list. With 1,829 career three-pointers made, KD now sits 21st on the list. Next up is Chauncey Billups, who has made 1,830 three-balls throughout his NBA career.
The noise level drops as the game improves
Kevin Durant was asked how the Nets’ win reduced the ‘noise’. And by “noise,” we mean the wave of controversy that’s swept the team from June 30, when KD asked for a trade, to November 20, when Kyrie came back from an eight-game suspension for posting an anti-Semitic video had.
“To be honest, I think we’ve always been about the ball,” Durant told the media. “No disrespect to what you (the media) are doing, I just think the outside noise of the media and the fans makes it seem like we don’t care about the game or we’re not focused on the task at hand. We’ve always been like this. It’s the fact that you don’t have much to talk about outside of the game, so that doesn’t add to the discussion about our team.”
As SpongeBob might say…
The Nets travel to Atlanta to face Trae Young, Dejounte Murray and the Hawks in the second of three straight road games. Coverage begins Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. on the YES Network.
For a different perspective on today’s game, see fear the swordour Cavaliers sister site.