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Nets escape Cleveland for their third-straight win, defeating Cavaliers, 117-112

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Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

It wasn’t easy but Brooklyn got the job done.

The Nets defeated the Cavaliers in Cleveland, 117-112, Monday night. With the victory, Brooklyn picked up their third-straight win and their 11th win in their last 13 games to remain on top of the Eastern Conference (13-5).

“It takes a little while to get going sometimes, but they found themselves in a hole, they were proud and responded,” said Steve Nash on the come from behind victory. “That’s the most important thing. They responded tonight and other than a bunch of points, as the game was kinda over in the last minute or so, they shut them down in the second half. We told them ‘we have to win this game with our defense’ and they did it.”

The contest came down to the final minute of play. The Nets were nursing a 113-108 advantage after two big buckets down low from LaMarcus Aldridge and James Johnson. The door remained cracked for Cleveland with 23.0 seconds remaining after an offensive foul was called on Kevin Durant out of the inbound pass.

The Cavs attempted to trim the deficit to two points off a three but settled with two big free throws from Lauri Markkanen, making it a three-point game with 14.9 seconds remaining. Brooklyn won the free-throw battle in the final seconds to secure the road win.

Durant finished with 27 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from three. The Nets superstar grabbed six rebounds and dished nine assists as well in the win. James Harden followed with a double-double of 14 points and 14 assists in 38 minutes of action and Patty Mills continued his scoring punch with 17 points in 35 minutes.

The Nets bench provided a huge scoring boost, led by Aldridge with 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes; the most he’s played this season.

Then it was Cam Thomas who made the most of his run of minutes. The Nets rookie, who was fresh off a 46-point barrage in the G League, scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the floor and 2-of-3 from three-point range in 15 minutes of play.

“I got in and knew the game-plan and knew what we had to do. I got in. I got open looks and got open looks, so I feel like those are really good for me coming in right away, getting open looks and I made most of them,” said Thomas on his performance. “When James or KD kicks it to me, you got to knock it down when you’re wide open. A great building block to me.”

Brooklyn concluded the win shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from deep to go with 32 assists on 45 made shots.

“I think we just switched our coverage up a bit. They were getting kinda free there in the pick-and-roll and getting downhill pretty easily after a few screens. We just wanted to close that space up. We started switching some stuff, changing up our matchup and was able to keep them away from the paint,” Durant said. “We rebounded but we missed a lot of shots in the first half. For the most part, us losing in the rebounds didn’t hurt us when we kept getting stops.”

Brooklyn started their sixth starting lineup of the young season and their fourth different starting five in the last five games — Durant, Harden, Mills, DeAndre’ Bembry, and Blake Griffin. Pre-game, the Nets head coach put an emphasis on starting the game strongly but Brooklyn couldn’t follow through.

The Nets struggled to defend Jarrett Allen (six points in the first) as Cleveland made six of their first 12 shots to forge an early 14-11 advantage. Both teams struggled to score a consistent string of buckets and with three minutes remaining, Cam Thomas checked into the contest — his first NBA game since his 46-point performance in the G League Saturday — and although he didn’t receive many touches (three points) but played solid defense. Brooklyn trailed Cleveland, 27-24 after one. Durant led the Nets offensively, shooting 3-of-7 from the field for nine points in 12 minutes.

The Cavs opened the second on a 5-0 run but the Nets kept the contest within five points for the majority of the quarter, but Cleveland extended their lead to a half-high 11 points entering the final three minutes. In the final seconds of the half (12.4 seconds) James Johnson picked up a technical following complaining about a foul call, which helped the Cavs conclude the second on an extended 17-5 run to forge an 11-point lead (63-52).

Cleveland’s defense held Brooklyn’s offense to only 40.8 percent shooting from the field and 25.0 percent from three-point range in the second. Durant, who scored four points in the second, led the Nets at the break with 13 points in 17 minutes followed by LaMarcus Aldridge with nine points off the bench. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers — who had three players in double-figures — were led by Darius Garland with 16 points in 20 minutes, followed by Lauri Markkanen with 13 points in 15 minutes. Brooklyn was outrebounded, 30-14.

Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn started the third with Griffin on the bench and instead used Aldridge at the 5 to pair with Harden, Mills, Bembry and Durant. The Nets continued to struggle offensively and couldn’t crack the deficit to a single possession until the final minutes of the quarter.

And then the rookie came to play and make the most of his run.

“Without Joe, we were down a shooter and a spacer, so we had to go with some different lineups and some different guys. Cam was great,” said Nash on Thomas’ spark in the second half. “He stepped up with confidence to take shots.”

Thomas provided a must-needed offensive boost, scoring eight points in the third to lead a 9-0 run and conclude the period with a flimsy 84-82 advantage. As a team, Brooklyn outscored Cleveland, 32-19 in the third.

“The spirit wasn’t great in the first half. The spirit was exceptional in the second half,” Nash said. “It takes a few minutes of stops and baskets to really see that spirit rise, so we jumped on it early in the third. Some balls went in obviously but I think that came off our defense. It came off getting stops, getting out in transition, semi-transition, getting into actions early and creating better scoring opportunities for ourselves. The defense led to the offense.”

It was a back-and-forth fourth quarter and the game came down to the final minutes of play. The Cavs forged a 7-0 run to build a three-point lead before Durant and Mills responded with their own 7-0 run to strip back a four-point advantage with 2:13 remaining. In the end, Brooklyn hit their free throws and escaped Cleveland with their third-straight win.

Patty on a 3-point tear

Once again, Patty Mills filled the gap created when Joe Harris went down with a sprained ankle four games back. Since then, Mills has shot 17-of-34, a 50 percent clip.

So far this season, Mills is shooting 48.6 percent from deep, second in the NBA, and has racked up 54 trios in 111 attempts. Last season, Mills made 161 three’s for the Spurs, his career high. At this point, he’s on pace to hit as many 250.

As Sponge Bob might say

What’s next

The Nets will travel to Boston to face former Nets assistant, Ime Udoka and the Celtics on Wednesday. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Monday’s game, check out Fear The Sword — our sister site covering the Cavaliers.