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Kyrie Irving’s 27 points not enough as Nets go cold in final minutes, 114-107

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Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn couldn’t convert when it mattered.

The Nets fell short late in the fourth quarter, losing to the Cavaliers, 114-107 in Cleveland. With the defeat, Brooklyn falls to 27-16 on the season and 15-5 on the road. After being the NBA’s best on the road, the Nets have now fallen behind the Suns who are 16-4.

“This league is a make or miss league and tonight we didn’t make them when they counted,” said James Harden after the 114-107 loss.

It was looking promising for the Nets, but Brooklyn couldn’t buy a bucket late, giving Cleveland a 110-105 lead with a minute left. Kyrie Irving answered with a layup after a Lauri Markkanen missed a dagger three.

On the following possession, Harden got tied up on the right wing and his pass was out of the reach of Irving, leaving the ball rolling down the court. Isaac Okoro slammed it in to make it a five-point game. With the door slightly cracked with little hope, Irving missed a 26-foot three. The Cavaliers went on to hit their free throws to escape with the win.

“At the end, we didn’t convert. I think we missed a layup, we had a few, easy opportunities to covert that we didn’t convert. We let [Evan] Mobley get behind us for a layup and those are small margins of the game,” said Steve Nash on the play down the stretch. “For me, giving up 65 points in the first half. We had a lot of defensive errors we weren’t happy with; that’s the game. We got to be more consistent. We have to be more solid, and we have to put together two halves of defense.”

Irving finished the road loss with 27 points (12-of-23 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 shooting from three, seven rebounds and nine assists in 38 minutes of play. Harden tallied another double-double of 22 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists in 40 minutes.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed two shots around the rim late recorded 12 points, five rebounds and an assist in 23 minutes off the bench. Aldridge returned Monday afternoon after missing the past five games with right foot soreness.

“Just keep an eye on it,” said Aldridge on his foot soreness. “It didn’t feel totally back to normal but hopefully as I play more and more, it’ll get better and better.”

Day’Ron Sharpe and Kessler Edwards, who both started again for the Nets, registered good outings for Brooklyn. Edwards shot 4-of-8 from the field and 3-of-6 from three-point range for 11 points while snagging three rebounds and swatting one shot in 38 minutes. Sharpe tallied 10 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in 24 minutes of play.

Other than not converting down the stretch, the Nets deficit in paint points served as a big factor in the defeat. Cleveland outscored Brooklyn 54-34 in the paint even though they were only outrebounded, 40-35. The Cavaliers also converted a total of 22 points off the Nets’ 14 turnovers.

With no Kevin Durant, Brooklyn started Harden, Irving, Edwards, Sharpe and Patty Mills. The smaller Nets went up six early (13-7) off an 8-0 run through a series of steals and back-to-back threes against the bigger Cavs. The three-ball shooting behind Edwards and Irving continued to fuel fire to Brooklyn’s offense, but Cleveland answered a 9-1 run to bring it back to a one-possession game.

The Nets concluded the first frame with a 31-30 lead, behind six threes (one shy of a season-high first-quarter total) and 60 percent shooting from three, and 52.2 percent shooting overall.

Cleveland jumped out to a strong start in the second, growing a seven-point lead with seven minutes remaining through a paint-scoring barrage. The scoring barrage in the paint continued to linger throughout the quarter with the Cavs pounding a 28-10 advantage in that category, through Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley to boost a 65-59 lead at halftime.

“Giving up 65 points in that first half is way too much,” said Harden. “Second half, we were a lot better but we got to get better first half of the game, and I think it’s a different outcome.”

Brooklyn weathered the storm with their perimeter shooting (45.0 percent), led by Mills’ with 11 points in 16 minutes (3-of-6 from three-point range). Harden registered a solid 12 points, three rebounds and six assists in the first half, but the Nets bench compiled a 27-15 bench scoring margin. Aldridge led the bench with six points on three midrange jumpers.

Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Cleveland grew their lead to nine points early in the third, but Brooklyn’s sharpshooting countered. A pair of threes by Edwards and Irving trimmed the deficit down to one with 7:57 left in the quarter.

The superstar duo of Harden and Irving were in sync in the third, powering Brooklyn’s offense. Harden took a knee to his left thigh and after needing a minute to walk it off, he stayed in the contest but was subbed out for Cam Thomas with three minutes left.

“I just got kneed,” said Harden on the play. “I’m good. I should be alright. I’ll be straight.”

And then Irving took over. The Nets forged an 11-2 burst, behind the play of Irving to take a 88-87 lead heading into the fourth. The guard scored 14 points in the frame and hit the final 12 minutes with 23 points.

Irving carried his takeover to the fourth, swishing and dishing but with a two-point lead at the 8:16 mark, Nash gave the guard a two-minute breather. Cleveland went on an 8-0 burst, but Brooklyn countered with a pair of three-point free throw opportunities for Harden to knot the contest up at 105 with 3:21 remaining.

The Nets went on to miss five straight shots and go cold in the final minutes while the Cavs capitalized on the late-game miscues to finish out the game with a seven-point home victory.

For the Cavs, Garland finished with 22 points to lead six players in double figures. Jarrett Allen ended the game with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.

The Film Room

It’s tough to lose ballgames when you shoot 40% from deep as a team. Yet, the second that Brooklyn’s starting lineup of James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Patty Mills, Kessler Edwards, and Day’Ron Sharpe, we knew it would be an uphill battle for Brooklyn. Presumably, the supersized Cavaliers, with their skyscraping frontcourt of three seven-footers in Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley, and former Net Jarrett Allen, would snowplow the Nets in a few categories... blocks, rebounds, points in the paint... you know, the sorts of basketball things that favor being really dang tall.

“Our communication has to be that much more crisp,” said Kyrie Irving about playing against teams that trend larger like Cleveland. “We don’t have somebody that could really clean up some of the mistakes on the backside like Kevin or guys that are gonna just fill in the paint and just do the right thing.”

As mentioned above, Brooklyn mostly held its own in rebounding and actually recorded more blocks (4) than the young Cavaliers (3). Where this game was lost was in the painted area and that 20-point differential. The Nets were unable to halt the Cavaliers devastating pick-and-roll game, which featured the ascendent Darius Garland and Allen, who has continued to be one of the best roll men in the league since his time in Brooklyn.

With Nicolas Claxton out because of hamstring tightness, the Nets opted for drop coverage out of pure necessity. Day’Ron Sharpe is about as green as it gets as a pick-and-roll defender, and the Nets have felt most comfortable using him in more conservative schemes like drop coverage. LaMarcus Aldridge, on the other hand, has proven time and time again that’s a one-coverage big man (see: the games against Golden State and Phoenix).

Darius Garland accepted that challenge and immediately responded by detonating pull-up threes in the face of Brooklyn’s defense early into the game. This, of course, opened up the floor for his teammates, as the threat of his jumper opened up lob opportunities for the Cavs’ young bigs.

Garland also struck after nearly every Nets defensive miscue. His passing has taken a huge leap this season, and that was evident on this missile of a pass to Kevin Love at the rim against what appears to be a Nets’ box-and-1 defense. When Kevin Love dives to the rim, Irving is unable to get onto the high side of him. Brooklyn’s bed is basically made after the veteran big man firmly seals positioning for the mismatch.

Bouts in the post went just as poorly for the Nets. Below, James Harden, one of the Nets' better post-up defenders, gets flat-out left in the dust by Jarrett Allen. (Former) Net on Net crime!

And even when the Nets were able to put together a great defensive stand, as Kessler Edwards does here against Evan Mobley by contesting with great verticality and recording the block, Cleveland could rely on that gosh dang verticality to keep the play going and score buckets in bunches.

“We’ve got to crash the board’s more and try to cover up when they try to post up the smaller guys,” said LaMarcus Aldridge after the loss. “But as long as we put effort into it, it’s alright.”

Rookie Watch

For the second time in two games, Kessler Edwards was second in minutes, tied with Kyrie Irving at 38 minutes, two minutes short of James Harden. Edwards, the 44th pick, is now the starting 3-and-D forward for Brooklyn. As Steve Lichtenstein reports in his substack, In Edwards continues to make his case to the Nets that he isn’t merely injury filler. Moreover, Lichtenstein noted that beyond the three’s, there’s the D.

Per’s tracking, he held Cleveland’s highly-regarded rookie Evan Mobley, who was drafted third overall, to three-for-seven shooting without fouling him once despite the four-inch and 12-pound disparities.

For the season, Edwards is now averaging 8.3 points, 4.2 rebounds as well as a steal and a block per game. In the last two games, however, he’s averaging 37.5 minutes, 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, an assist and a block with shooting splits of 56/64/100. And as Frank Isola said post-game, Edwards has shaken off any hesitancy he may have had in shooting.

Overall, Edwards, Day’Ron Sharpe and Cam Thomas played 71 minutes, scored 27 points and grabbed 11 boards.

What’s next

Philadelphia 76ers v Washington Wizards Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets will play the second game of the four-game road trip on Wednesday when the team travels to Washington D.C. to play Spencer Dinwiddie and the Wizards. The game is slated to tip at 7:00 p.m. ET.

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