The Nets closed out the most anticipated regular season in franchise history with a thrilling win. There is a lot to unpack.
Brooklyn has officially secured the second seed in the East, defeating the Cavaliers, 123-109. They’ll play the winner of the Wizards-Celtic play-in tournament game when the first round of the playoffs begins May 22.
With the win, the Nets ended the regular season with an overall record of 48-24 and the best winning percentage (.662) in franchise history. The Nets finished the regular-season 24 games over .500 — a new franchise record. This also means that rookie head coach Steve Nash has the best winning percentage of any coach in franchise history.
“It’s great. You think about all the things that have been thrown at us and how difficult this year was for everybody. Just the condensed schedule and all the protocols; I’m really proud of our team,” said Steve Nash reflecting on the 2020-21 season and locking up the second seed. “Getting the two seed is an accomplishment for everything that we faced this year and I feel like everybody in that locker room contributed in a meaningful way which makes it special.
“Lots to be proud of. Lots to be thankful for, but this is what we came for. Now we get to work and really go at it.”
Kyrie Irving had himself a historic night, joining only nine other NBA players in the prestigious 50-40-90 club — joining Steve Nash (four times), Larry Bird (two times), Malcolm Brogdon, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller and Mark Price. The Nets guard cemented his spot with a shooting performance of 7-of-11 from the field and 3-of-3 from three. Irving finished the regular season shooting 50.6 percent from the field, 40.2 percent from three and 90.2 percent from the free-throw line.
Nash and Durant provided high praise and a warm welcome to their guard for joining the exclusive and illustrious club.
“Kyrie was incredible this year. [He was] so efficient and such a talented player who just makes incredible shots every night. To be able to make those shots, create the space to take those shots, to convert at such an efficient rate is incredible,” said Nash on Irving’s accomplishment. “Remarkable player. Remarkable accomplishment and I’m really proud that I can see it first hand.”
“Phenomenal season from Kai. He’s a guy who can get it from anywhere on the floor at any time. At that size, it’s remarkable. Point guards that get 50-40-90 are so much more impressive to me,” said Durant on Irving joining the 50-40-90 club. “Kai, Steph, Steve do it, I’m sure there’s more, but those three stand out to me. Small guys that get to the paint from the middy, three, free throw line; they can do it all. I’m very, very happy for Kyrie and I’m sure this won’t be his last time.”
Harden, who sat out the regular-season finale for (right hamstring - injury management) congratulated Irving after the game on his historic accomplishment.
May 17, 2021
The history didn’t stop there for Irving. He also became the fourth NBA player to average 25 points and shoot 50/40/90 — joining Curry (2015-16), Durant (2012-13) and Bird (1987-88 & 1986-87).
The big win was paved by Durant, who registered a near triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes of play. Durant rebounded from his poor shooting performance in Saturday’s win with a near-perfect shooting night of 8-of-10 from the field and 1-of-2 from deep.
“He was great tonight. They doubled him a lot. He had 13 assists, two turnovers, his shot-making was his incredible normal self, so very well done. A Balanced game with short minutes. He was huge for us,” said Nash on Durant’s performance in the victory.
And yes, he scored on the highlight of the year for the Nets ... and maybe the NBA. See below.
Outside of Brooklyn’s superstar duo, Mike James had another good game off the bench with 14 points, eight assists and four rebounds in 28 minutes. Bruce Brown finished with 12 points in 26 minutes of play followed by Landry Shamet who also had 12 points in 25 minutes. Brooklyn had seven players finish in double-figures.
For the Cavaliers, Issac Okoro finished with 18 points in 34 minutes followed by Damyean Dotson with 17 points in 28 minutes off the bench. Jarrett Allen returned to Brooklyn, scoring nine points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 30 minutes of play. The loss was Cleveland’s last game of the season as their draft lottery preparation will begin. Not for the Nets. They’re trying to win 16 games between now and July.
Brooklyn came out with focus, knowing the second seed was at stake, and opened up the contest hitting five of their first six shots — two threes from Landry Shamet — to take an early 12-4 advantage with 9:31 forcing Cleveland to call their first timeout.
“I thought it was very professional. We came out with the requisite energy. It’s nice to score the ball but it’s also nice to get stops and get rebounds to get out and push in transition,” said Nash on Brooklyn’s strong start in the first quarter. “The offense was a byproduct of that in many ways. It’s naturally born and bred on the offensive end, but the defense; the physicality and attention to detail were important to start the game.”
Cleveland gained some momentum in the final minute, forging a 10-3 while the Nets had a short cold streak. Although the late quarter burst, Brooklyn concluded the first frame with a commanding 34-24 lead shooting a hot 61.9 percent from the floor and 70.0 percent from three.
Prior to the second quarter, Jarrett Allen received a tribute video and a standing ovation from the fans in attendance as well as the Nets bench for his 234-game tenure.
Gave his all for Brooklyn on and off the court.— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 16, 2021
Thank you, @_bigjayy_ pic.twitter.com/RtRfn40QRc
Allen thanked the Nets and the fans for the warm welcome back to Brooklyn after the game.
Thank you for all the love and the warm welcome back @BrooklynNets!— Jarrett Allen (@_bigjayy_) May 17, 2021
The Cavs cut the deficit to eight with 8:44 remaining in the second. Nash quickly subbed in Durant, Irving and Griffin into the contest, replacing Claxton, Tyler Johnson, and Green.
While Cleveland hung around in the second quarter, going into halftime trailing 67-56. Ending the half with an 11-point lead, the Nets were led by the backcourt duo of James — 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from deep — and Irving — 15 points on 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-3 from deep.
To make things sweeter, Brooklyn was engaged on defense, translating the Cavaliers’ nine turnovers into 15 points while shooting 64.3 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from three.
(just in case you wanted to interrupt your 20th viewing of that play to check out the halftime stats) pic.twitter.com/XljRoHI7pA— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 17, 2021
Beyond the first half stats and play, the frame was packed with thunderous highlights and arguably the highlight of the year. Just take a look for yourself because words won’t sum it up.
Highlight of the year?
Then it happened.
In the final seconds of the first half, a disjointed Cavaliers possession provided fans with some Harlem Globetrotters-esque magic. Cedi Osman tried to save a ball intended for Jarrett Allen by tossing it high in the sky, only for it to be batted away by Mike James. The ball ricocheted right to Blake Griffin, who caught it with one hand and flicked it behind his back all in one motion to kickstart a Nets fast break.
“I don’t like to pat myself on the back, but I did get that thing started,” said a joking Blake Griffin. “I was yelling at everyone to take off. I passed it to Kyrie and I was yelling to Kyrie to pass it to Mike, and I told Mike to throw it off the backboard. And then Kevin just dunked it, I didn’t tell him anything. I don’t wanna take credit for it, those guys did it. I was just orchestrating from behind.”
The ball sailed ahead to Kyrie Irving, who forward lateraled it to Mike James. From there, the 30-year-old point guard tossed the rock off the glass and Kevin Durant finished the play with a thunderous slam.
“Blake did something weird, threw it behind the back,” said Mike James about the play. “Kyrie threw it to me and I kinda seen Kev trailing. My instinct was to throw it off the glass but I was a little bit nervous because I think if it would’ve been bad, my Nets career would’ve been over. But it worked out for me. Kev caught it and it worked.”
BASKETBALL IS MAGIC!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/hN16MoEVUC— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 17, 2021
As John Schumann of NBA.com (and the founder of this website) tweeted...
The season is over. Goodnight, everybody. pic.twitter.com/e5UkMqy1gU— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 17, 2021
“My vantage was I think we’re cute now. That’s all I got for you,” Nash joked on the highlight play. “I’m glad the fans got their money's worth.”
While Nash was watching the play happen from the sidelines, Durant — who topped the play with a slam — described the sequence.
“You can see that play forming. It felt like it was laid up on a platter for us. We got a good stop, a good deflection, Blake was able to get it out quick, Kai got it up quick and then boom,” said Durant on the highlight play. “It just happened so fast and we didn’t force anything and those are usually the best plays when it organically happens. It was one of those ones. I’m excited I was a part of it.”
Meanwhile, from Hong Kong came this tweet...
Oh my God!— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) May 16, 2021
Ok, back to the game.
Brooklyn was nursing an 82-70 lead until a game-changing play occurred with 6:11 remaining in the third.
Sexton drove down to the basket and caught Durant with his left elbow, hitting the Nets superstar in the face. Initially, the officials called a offensive foul on Durant, but after the Nets challenged the call, Sexton received a Flagrant Foul 2 and was ejected from the game ... and ending his season. The Cavs guard was watching the contest from the tunnel with visible disappointment.
Can our stars stop getting elbowed in the face please pic.twitter.com/7Q1wUH2jCm— Talkin’ Nets (@TalkinNets) May 17, 2021
Following the ejection, it was all Nets to conclude the third. Brooklyn outscored Cleveland 17-6 after the toss and entered the final 12 minutes of play with a commanding 99-76 lead.
Brooklyn didn’t play Durant or Irving in the fourth quarter and concluded the game with a 14-point victory to end their regular season.
The Film Room
This was one of those “oh my goodness are Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving good at basketball” nights, you know?
Kevin Durant made all but 2 shots, which is highly impressive. Duh. But the real story was Kyrie Irving solidifying his status as a 50/40/90 player in what has easily been his best season to date.
(Complete side note, but according to Sam Quinn of CBS Sports, Brooklyn was five made Kevin Durant free throws away from having TWO 50/40/90 players, which would’ve been a first in NBA history. Crazy stuff!)
Irving got DEEP into his bag early by shooting it from, well, deep. This three-ball from 30-feet out is Steph/Dame-range, though maybe we should add Kyrie’s name to that mix; per NBA stats, he’s shooting 43.8 percent from 30 feet out (or further).
FROM SHEEPSHEAD BAY pic.twitter.com/UTeX5pLJFz— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 16, 2021
Cleveland’s rookie wing Isaac Okoro is fairly versatile wing defender, fit for almost any non-center matchup in the league... except speedy guards like Kyrie Irving, whose handles package will send you toppling over like a set of dominoes. Too slow, young man!
KAI to the cup pic.twitter.com/mRHA3zKql0— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 16, 2021
Though this highlight came at the expense of a Nets fan-favorite, Jarrett Allen, this is just surgical offensive pursuit from Irving. Coming off the dribble-handoff from Blake Griffin, he noticed Jarrett Allen awaiting him the paint, daring Irving to challenge him at the rack. Instead of meeting the shot-swatter head-on, Irving dragged poor Allen away from his comfy painted-area domain to swish a gorgeous fadeaway jumper over the top of Allen’s arms.
Kyrie is breaking out the Kobe playbook pic.twitter.com/OvVkgm6jRI— Talkin’ Nets (@TalkinNets) May 16, 2021
“Special,” said Mike James about Irving. “His skill level is probably one of the best ever. What he’s able to do on the basketball court is probably unmatched in history. I think people are lucky he’s his height. If he was any taller, it would be really scary. He’s special and it’s nice to watch him every day.”
A historical season from Kyrie Irving capped off with highlights aplenty.
Joe Harris is the 3-point king (again)
You could trace the ethos of Brooklyn’s success back to the 2018-2019 season. A lot happened that year including how a then-relative unknown Joe Harris took the league by storm by leading the association in three-point percentage at 47.4 percent.
Fittingly, to cap off the most successful season in Nets franchise history, Joey Buckets has done it again, shooting the ball at 47.5 percent accuracy to lead the NBA in three-point percentage once more. The next closest on the list is the LA Clippers’ Marcus Morris, who finished the 2020-2021 season at 45.5 percent from deep.
In fact, over the past four years, Harris has shot 45 percent from deep. That’s the best in the NBA over that timeframe. Steph Curry and Duncan Robinson are next at 42.3 percent, followed by Joe Ingles and Klay Thompson at 42.0 percent.
Harris also surpassed Drazen Petrovic for the best career 3-point shooting percentage in franchise history. Harris’ career number in Brooklyn is 44.1 percent after five years. Petrovic, who played three years in New Jersey, finished his Nets career at 43.7 percent.
The best offense... ever? Stats say yes!
By finishing the season with a 117.3 offensive rating, the Nets not only led the league in offense, but they also broke the all-time record for offensive rating in an NBA season. Previously held by last year’s Dallas Mavericks, meaning that this has to be the shortest-lived record in NBA history (we’re kidding about that last part).
In all seriousness, the Nets also finished first in field goal percentage at 49.4 percent and second in three-point percentage at 39.2. Brooklyn’s true shooting percentage of 61 percent is the single-highest true shooting performance in NBA history, besting the 2017-2018 Golden State Warriors, who posted 60.3 percent true shooting. KD of course played on both.
Brooklyn also posted the best halfcourt offense by scoring at a rate of 104.7 points per 100 possessions and finished strong in a variety of tracking statistics according to Synergy Statistics: first in post-up efficiency, second in isolation scoring, second in spot-up offense, second in scoring off handoffs, and fourth in transition offense.
Altogether, you get the best offense in NBA history.
Even more milestones!
In just 36 games played, James Harden tied Jason Kidd for the franchise record in triple-doubles with 12 on the season. That’s right, a player who was acquired in the midst of the season via trade, who missed a month of games due to a hamstring strain, tied a record from perhaps the greatest player in franchise history.
How good is James Harden? He put up a triple-double in a third of his games as a Net!
With his .667 winning percentage, Steve Nash now has the winningest record among Nets coaches, surpassing P.J. Carlesimo .648.
Final “Big Three” numbers
Despite all the missed games, there were few missed opportunities for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Here are the final offensive numbers (Harden’s as a Net) ...
- Kyrie Irving: 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists with a shooting split of 50/40/92
- Kevin Durant: 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists with a shooting split of 53/45/88
- James Harden: 24.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, 10.9 assists with a shooting split of 47/37/86.
So, both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving finished with 26.9 ppg, but if we carry out the long division, we find that it was KD who won Nets scoring title.
Irving finished first in minutes among “Big Three” with 1,886. James Harden played 1,319 (with Nets) and Kevin Durant 1,157.
Bonus points — and dollars — for Kyrie Irving
When the value of player contracts is calculated, bonuses are included in the number only if they are deemed likely. But if a player achieves those unlikely bonuses in his contract, his salary goes up as does his team’s cap hit. As Bobby Marks tweeted, Kyrie Irving did well by his contract bonuses...
Kyrie Irving bonuses— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) May 17, 2021
Total of $525K
✅Free Throw %
❌ Defensive rating
His 2021-22 cap hit is now $35.46M
He should have included a 50/40/90 shooting split!
An update (of sorts) on Spencer Dinwiddie
As Spencer Dinwiddie continues his rehabilitation process for his partially torn ACL, recently posting yet another workout video on his Instagram account, the question remains: Will he be available for the postseason?
Steve Nash provided an update to the (remaining) pressing Nets question... Sort of.
“I’m not sure about Spencer,” said Steve Nash. “He’s been in Los Angeles basically since his surgery. I don’t have necessarily a comment on that. I’m not sure what the plan is for him, what he personally wants to do. So we’ll have to just wait and see.”
As Sponge Bob might say
Per Will Hanley.
The regular season has finally come to a close with Brooklyn finishing with a 48-24 record. The second-seed Nets will be back in action on May 22 - the start of the first round of the NBA playoffs - and with the second-seed belonging to Brooklyn, the team has secured home court for the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Brooklyn’s first-round opponent will be determined by the winner of the Wizards-Celtics play-in game.
For a different perspective on the regular-season finale, check out Fear The Sword - our sister site covering the Cleveland Cavaliers.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 123, Cleveland Cavaliers 109 - NBA.com
- Game Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 123, Cleveland Cavaliers 109 (Video) - NBA.com
- Nets Post Game Plus: Nets take down Cavs (Video) - Chris Shearn & Frank Isola - YES Network
- Frank Isola’s Nets playoff predictions (Video) - YES Network
- Kevin Durant on making a title run in 2021 (Video) - Michael Grady - YES Network
- Ian Eagle, Sarah Kustok on Nets’ victory Sunday night (Video) - YES Network
- Steve Nash on capturing the No. 2 seed (Video) - YES Network
- Kevin Durant on Nets’ win over Cavs (Video) - YES Network
- I Did Not Know That: Basketball Hall of Fame - Michael Grady - YES Network
- Durant, Irving power Nets past Cavs for No. 2 seed in East - Brian Mahoney - AP
- Nets clinch second seed in East with easy win over Cavs - Larry Fleisher - Reuters
- Nets clinch No. 2 seed in East with rout of Cavaliers - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Kyrie Irving shoots way into exclusive NBA club: ‘Remarkable’ - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- The Nets have no excuse not to win it all - Ian O’Connor - New York Post
- Kevin Durant finds his groove as Nets win season finale against Cavaliers to secure No. 2 seed in NBA playoffs - Greg Logan - Newsday
- James Harden held out of Nets’ final regular-season game vs. Cavaliers - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Inside ‘The Play’: How an off-the-backboard alley-oop vaulted Nets into playoffs - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Nets likely to face Wizards or Celtics in first round of playoffs - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Brooklyn Nets secure No. 2 seed as Kyrie Irving joins 50/40/90 club - Malika Andrews - ESPN
- Nets reaction: The Brooklyn Nets clinch the No. 2 seed - Ajayi Browne - USA Today
- GAME GRADES: Nets Clinch No. 2 Seed With Win Over Cavs, Await Playoff Opponent - Elizabeth Swinton - The Brooklyn Game
- NETS 123, CAVALIERS 109: BROOKLYN CLINCHES NO. 2 SEED - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- NETS VS. CAVALIERS: BLAKE GRIFFIN, KEVIN DURANT, AND STEVE NASH TOP QUOTES - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- GALLERY: NETS VS. CAVALIERS - Brooklyn Nets
- Collin Sexton ejected as Cleveland Cavaliers wrap ‘difficult’ season with 123-109 loss to Brooklyn Nets - Chris Fedor - Cleveland Plain-Dealer