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Nets win ninth-straight game with 125-117 victory over Cavaliers

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Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets are officially the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn won its ninth-straight game to extend the longest active winning streak in the association with a 125-117 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Nets’ streak is the longest winning streak in franchise history since 2005-06 — when Jacque Vaughn was the back-up point guard — and Brooklyn is a league-best 10-1 in the month of 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 have ruined the narrative that they can’t beat good teams, turning back the Warriors, Bucks and Cavs in a week.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving each dropped 32 points, joining Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as the only pair of teammates to have five 30-point performances in the season game during this young NBA season. Irving’s seven 3-pointers were a season-high and even though Durant fouled out for the first time in his Nets tenure late in the fourth, he made five three’s. Between the two superstars, they were a combined 21-of-37, including 12-of-19 from deep.

T.J. 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 highest point total in exactly two years. The 6’9” forward scored 23 for the Pacers on December 26, 2020 before a series of foot injuries sidelined him through December 2 of this year.

Darius Garland paced all scores with a ridiculous 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, its second-best performance from distance this season behind only its 63.6% outside shooting in the 143-113 victory over the Golden State Warriors. That ridiculous shooting performance made up for the points-in-the-paint discrepancy, which Cleveland led, 48-34, at the sound of the final buzzer.

Bottom line was that the box score lines didn’t tell the full extent of the game story. Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton didn’t put him big numbers offensively but Simmons never let Donovan Mitchell get started and Claxton had the same effect on Allen. As Claxton noted of his former teammate post-game, “I’ve got a lot of experience playing against him,” referring to the season and a half the two played on the Nets. Mitchell finished with a 5-of-16 shooting line and 15 points, roughly half his season average of 28.9 while Allen got off five shots for the game, making only two.

Early on, both teams showed why they’re top defenses. Brooklyn’s frontcourt, Simmons and Nic Claxton, started a combined 1-of-4 from the field against Cleveland’s ginormous duo of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. The Nets, meanwhile, completely ignored Lamar Stevens, a low-percentage outside shooter, to clog Cleveland’s driving lanes.

Fortunately, behind some absurd shotmaking from Royce O’Neale, Durant, and Warren, who hit a three and absurd and-1 finish, the Nets found their rhythm on offense. Ben Simmons was also exceptional to start thanks to his excellent interior defense and presence on the offensive glass, and the Cavs as a team shot just 36.4% from the field in the quarter. Altogether, the Nets got off to an excellent start, leading 34-22 after one.

The Cavaliers opened the second quarter on a 11-6 run with Kevin Durant sitting to cut Brooklyn’s advantage to seven. There were a couple of fun moments when Brooklyn’s center of the past, Allen, going head-to-head with its center of the future, Claxton. Allen attempted to post-up Allen on one end and badly missed after Claxton stood him up; and on the other end, Claxton zipped by Allen for the gorgeous finish off the glass. It was that kind of night.

Still, Brooklyn struggled to score for most of the quarter with just 10 points until Jacque Vaughn put in a small-ball lineup of Durant, Irving, Warren, O’Neale, and Simmons to break the scoring drought. It worked. Handsomely. Brooklyn went on a 18-4 run to close the half. Irving laced three 3-pointers and a long-two for 11 points in less than four minutes. Brooklyn entered the break with a 15-point lead, up 64-49, the largest halftime lead of the season on the road.

Cleveland fought back to start the third. An 8-0 run closed Brooklyn’s lead to 10. Brooklyn responded with a 10-3 run to get the lead back up to 15 points after a pair of threes from Durant. When the Cavaliers went with a zone defense down the stretch, Brooklyn promptly poked holes in the coverage with its strong shooting and slashing. The Nets entered the fourth quarter up 91-79.

The fourth quarter was the Kyrie Irving show. Irving put up seven points in less than two minutes to give Brooklyn a 19-point lead with just over 10 minutes remaining. The plucky young Cavaliers, however, did not go away, going on a 17-7 run after Irving’s scoring outburst. Durant didn’t care, as Ian Eagle put it on the YES broadcast. He hit two 3-pointers and drew free throws against Evan Mobley for eight points.

Garland matched him on the other end. Garland put up 13 points in three minutes to whittle Brooklyn’s lead down to nine. By the 4:07 mark in the fourth, Garland had already reached the 40-point mark. Things got especially scary when KD fouled out at the 1:54 mark in the fourth quarter. With just Irving on the floor to fulfill star duties, Cleveland threw a consistent slew of double-teams at Brooklyn’s All-Star point guard. The strategy worked, as Brooklyn turned the ball over at midcourt and then Irving traveled with the shot clock expiring with just under a minute in the game remaining. That turned out to be their last stand.

Fortunately, the Nets did just enough to hang on. Kyrie Irving nailed a pair of free throws when Cedi Osman fouled him along the sideline, and Claxton swatted 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 Monday night in Cleveland, Curry with a non-COVID illness and Harris with continuing knee soreness that will keep him out at least through Wednesday night’s game with the Hawks,

Still, even with its sharpshooters, 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 T.J. Warren (2-of-4). In total, of the six players who took a shot from deep in Cleveland, five hit better than 50%. Only Edmond Sumner (0-of-1) didn’t make the threshold. Nic Claxton, Ben Simmons and Patty Mills didn’t put one up.

The Nets are now 12-0 when they shoot at least 40% from three.

The Film Room

We warned you preseason. There was a very good chance that T.J. Warren would become the steal of the offseason. The prediction is coming to fruition.

As mentioned above, Warren was just exceptional off the bench. His 21 points in 27 minutes showcased everything that makes him such a lethal scorer. He’s adept from the midrange, capable of launching short-range floaters, and can space the floor, going 2-of-4 from deep against the Cavaliers. Plus, he’s a super cunning cutter, making him the perfect fit next to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s star power, both of whom draw an onslaught of double-teams consistently.

Maybe most of all, Warren’s just got that unteachable tough-shotmaking gene. It’s why he was a starter in Indiana during his last full season of play (before missing two full years with a pair of foot surgeries). They don’t call him the ‘Bubble God’ for nothing.

Seriously, his touch from 6-to-10 feet is just ridiculous. Warren’s shot a very solid 44.6% from 3-to-10 feet over the course of his career, nailing shots like this pretty stepback two-pointer with regularity. He’s a bit of a throwback player in that way, a mercenary from the short midrange, making him the perfect gap-filler next to the starry scoring talent and three-point marksmanship strewn across Brooklyn’s roster.

Many thought that Sean Marks would never top signing Jeff Green for the minimum. He quickly became an integral role player in Brooklyn’s lethal small unit next to James Harden, Irving, and Durant.

Warren, who also signed for the veteran’s minimum this offseason, might make them think twice.

Milestone watch

It’s all Kevin Durant this evening!

Durant hit a 21-foot jump shot at the 5:07 mark of the second quarter. But this wasn’t just any old long-two. It thrust him into 15th place on the all-time scoring list, surpassing Tim Duncan’s 26,496 total career points. Next up is Dominique Wilkins with 26,668 total points.

This season, Durant has passed Alex English, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Paul Pierce, and now Tim Duncan on the all-time scoring list in just 34 total games. Next up: Dominique Wilkins (26,668) who ironically was the only player before KD to come fully back from an achilles injury. With some luck, Durant could get as high as No. 10 this season.

“Most definitely,” Durant said when asked about appreciating milestones. “You want to just show up every day, but at some point you got to celebrate some small wins, just like a win [over the Cavaliers]. It’s cool to celebrate that with your team.

“So my career, to be able to you know pass an all-time great legend, somebody who shifted and changed the game is it’s something that I’ll call my folks about tonight and talk over and just reminisce on how we got here. So it’s pretty cool to do stuff like that and I want to celebrate those small things, but you know, keep pressing forward. I know I got more to do.”

Durant also passed Kobe Bryant on the all-time 3-pointers list. With 1,829 made career threes, KD now sits at slot #21 on the list. Next up is Chauncey Billups, who made 1,830 three-balls over the course of his NBA career.

Noise level drops as play improves

Kevin Durant was asked about how the level of “noise” has been reduced as the Nets have been winning. And by “noise,” we mean the wave of controversy that plagued the team from last June 30 when KD asked for trade through November 20 when Kyrie returned from an eight-game suspension for publicizing an anti-semitic video.

“To be honest, I think we’ve always been about ball,” Durant told the media. “No disrespect to what you guys (the media) do, I just think the outside noise from the media and the fans just make it seem like we don’t care about the game or we are not focused on the task ahead. We’ve always been that way. It’s the fact that you don’t have much to talk about outside of the game so that’s not adding to the discussion around our team.”

Kyrie Irving said something similar:

“Any external negativity or praise, I really don’t care about it. I think I’m just focused on being the best version of me and just letting the results play out based on how well we trust each other as a group,” added Irving.

“From the outside looking in,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said before the game, “it appears basketball is the main thing.”

Meanwhile, the two put up 30-point games in the same game for the fifth straight time, tying Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Kevin Love endorses a uniform retirement ceremony for Kyrie Irving

“Without a doubt. Absolutely. Right away, after his career ends,” Kevin Love told when asked about the possibility of a Kyrie Irving jersey retirement in Cleveland. “It’s not even a question to me. He needs to be up there. He made the biggest shot in franchise history and one of the most important shots in Finals history when you consider how it all went down — what it meant for the city, what it meant for his legacy, LeBron’s legacy and everything else, including that Golden State team that became a dynasty and was historically great.”

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets head to Atlanta to play Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, and the Hawks for the second of three-straight road games. Coverage begins on the YES Network at 7:30 PM on Wednesday.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to Fear the Sword, our Cavaliers sister site.