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First Round-Bound: Nets take care of Cavaliers to advance to first round, 115-108

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets - Play-In Tournament Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Next stop: First Round series against the Boston Celtics.

The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, 115-108, to advance to the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Play-In Tournament victory officially sets up a first-round series against the Celtics that begins Sunday. In a game the Nets never trailed, a 22-point collapse seemed possible but Brooklyn held on, got the job done, did what was needed and concluded the contest with “We want Boston” chants ringing from the soldout Barclays Center crowd (17,732).

“We have a different team. I’m really impressed with the Celtics, and the job Ime [Udoka] has done. They’ve been able to build on that continuity and that group has been together for quite a while. They made some tweaks and adjustments that have really improved their team on both ends of the floor. It’ll be a great challenge for us,” said Steve Nash looking ahead to facing the Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. “For a new group to play a team like that’s terrific on both ends is going to be something that hopefully brings out the best in us.”

Kyrie Irving put on a show, registering a double-double of a game-high-tying 34 points (12-of-15 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 shooting from 3-Point range) and 11 assists in 42 minutes of play. Irving also recorded one steal and a team-high four turnovers in the win. Kevin Durant followed with a double-double of 25 points (9-of-16 shooting from the field and 1-of-2 shooting from behind the arc) as well as 11 assists, with two steals, three blocks, and only one turnover in 42 minutes. It was the first time this season that both Durant and Irving recorded 10+ assists in the same contest.

“As advertised, they’re superstars. That’s what top, top players do,” said Nash on his superstar duo’s play over the last few games.”

Bruce Brown, who’s become the Nets' third most important player, finished with another near triple-double of 18 points, nine boards, and eight assists in 40 minutes. Andre Drummond came close to a double-double with 16 points and eight rebounds. The Nets bench was led by Nic Claxton, who delivered 13 points, nine rebounds, and one assist in 29 minutes. The bench totaled 22 points for Brooklyn. Overall, Brooklyn recorded 33 assists on 45 field goals.

“We knew they were going to throw a lot of different defenses at us to slow us down. We talked about it yesterday, I think guys were making themselves available and being aggressive when they got the ball and made the extra pass; 33 assists [against Cavs]. In the fourth quarter, I thought they were committing two to the ball regardless, leaving the rim wide open,” Durant said. “We got one of the most athletic guys in the league over the rim in Nic [Claxton]. We forced them into a lot of 2-on-1 situations. I like our chances in that.”

The Nets started Irving, Seth Curry, Durant, Brown, and Drummond against the Cavaliers. Brooklyn took care of the ball early and found a rhythm on the offensive end early without getting Durant involved. Meanwhile, Cleveland targeted the paint early, getting the ball to Evan Mobley to spark their offense. At the 7:12 mark of the first, the Nets commanded a 15-7 lead.

Claxton and Mills were the first Nets off the bench for the Nets. Brooklyn began to gather some separation shortly after, getting out in transition and building a nine-point lead (23-14) with 3:52 left. It got real ugly for the overly-energetic Cavaliers to end the opening quarter. Irving paved the way with 11 first-quarter points, and Brooklyn finished out the final three minutes of play on a 17-6 burst to take a 20-point lead. After one, the scoreboard read 40-20. It looked like it could turn into a blowout, but Cleveland had other ideas.

The Cavaliers took advantage of Durant being on the bench to start the second. Cleveland went on a 9-2 burst to slice the deficit to 13 before the Nets superstar came off the bench at the 7:37 mark. Ironically, it was Brooklyn’s defense that kept the lead standing strong. The Cavaliers went cold and so did the Nets, who scored only six points in five minutes until Irving’s topped off the first half in style. The guard nailed a tough buzzer-beater near the baseline to put Brooklyn up 57-43 at the break.

Irving put together a spectacular first half, scoring 20 points on perfect 9-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 shooting from 3-Point range. His 9-for-9 first half is the second most consecutive field goals made in a first half by a Net in franchise history. Durant followed with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field, while Brooklyn’s bench combined for 11 points.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets - Play-In Tournament Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn left their foot on the gas pedal on both ends of the floor to start the third. After Irving’s third 3-pointer, which was his 10th straight made field goal, the lead went back up to 20 (67-47) with 8:45 left in the third. That was until the Cavs put out a zone defense.

Cleveland’s zone gave Brooklyn problems midway through the period and on the other end, helped them forge a 14-4 run to slice to lead down to 12 with 3:20 left. The Nets gathered their footing but careless turnovers bit them late in the quarter, resulting in a 7-0 Cavs run with 1:00 left. Brooklyn ended the third with a 12-point lead (85-73).

“I wasn’t too worried,” said Brown on the Nets’ lead being trimmed. “We were just turning the ball over, making careless passes. I had like two of them. We just had to slow down and score. And defend on the other end.”

The Nets rested Durant to start the fourth and while the star was getting a breather, the Cavs found a rhythm. Durant’s breather was cut short, checking back into the contest with 10:02 left and his impact was quickly felt.

His 23-foot corner triple brought the lead back up to nine after the Cavs got within six points. He wasn’t finished. After back-to-back elbow jumpers, the lead expanded to 10 with 3:37 left. Cleveland cut the lead to five but Brooklyn held on to clinch their playoff spot and make a first-round series against the Celtics official.

“I thought for large portions of the game, we played well. We created a lot of separation. Up 20 gives you a lot of breathing room,” said Nash on the Play-In win. “They had nothing to lose at that point. They played well, and we had a hard stretch there when we had a hard time scoring and a hard stretch we couldn’t get stops. At the end of the day, we built that lead and I thought that was the reward.”

As the boss tweeted...

And by the way, we don’t have the data, but feel comfortable in saying that Tsai in his three seasons as owner has probably attended more Nets games, home and away, than his predecessor, Mikhail Prokhorov. He’s not only attended Nets games, but was in Brooklyn Monday for the WNBA Draft.

Nets donate $50,000 to help victims of subway attacks

The Nets held a moment of silence before the game against Cleveland and announced they’re donating $50,000 to help those who were injured after a gunman opened fire on a train Tuesday, wounding 10 and injuring another 19.

The shooting occurred at the 36th Street station in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, the one closest to the Nets’ HSS Training Center, where they held their morning shootaround Tuesday.

“That’s the subway stop for our practice facility and for our office,” Steve Nash said before the game. “My kids go to school not exceedingly far, so it does hit home and you just feel for all those affected and you recognize that we have a lot of growing to do as a society and a community, and you just feel for everybody in our community that was affected.”

The donation was the second time this year that the foundation, separate from the Joe and Clara Wu Tsai Foundation, has sent money to the victims of a New York tragedy. In January, the foundation provided $15,000 to those who survived the Bronx high-rise fire that killed 17, mostly immigrants.

The Film Room

The Nets did something very interesting on Tuesday night.

Rather than having Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving initiate most of their sets — as they had for a majority of the season — coach Steve Nash and his assistants switched things up. With the Cleveland Cavaliers mixing in a heavy diet of zone defense to start the 7/8 play-in game, Brooklyn decided to invert its offense; its defacto 6’4 center, Bruce Brown, organized the offense for his teammates.

“We were very patient. As you were watching, we were just very patient and allowed the game to come to us,” said Kyrie Irving. “We knew some of the adjustments they made towards the end of the game last time. So there was some carryover from the other night. Watch film. And that’s just part of the preparation when you’re going against the team again.”

Why was this Brooklyn’s solution, you may ask?

Well, the answer is simple. By having Bruce Brown set things up, the Nets were able to use their two most potent off-ball creators, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, as (wait for it...) off-ball threats. Brooklyn went to actions in which both players screened for each other, which greatly stressed Cleveland’s defense. After all, accounting for two all-world scorers in the same play and in the same general vicinity is quite the tall task. Genius, right!

But the strategy also doubled as a way of hiding Brown’s lack of floor spacing. By having him stand at the top of the arc to make plays for his teammates, the painted area was left vacant for his teammates to probe into and make things happen—the same painted area he normally operates within while cutting off-ball and searching for his floater.

Here’s a great example. The Nets set up with Nicolas Claxton preparing to set a pindown screen for Kevin Durant, but Caris LeVert—guarding KD—does what’s known as a “top lock” and positions his body to face Durant and prevent him from flying off the screen. Meanwhile, Bruce Brown handles the ball up top and waits patiently for the play to develop, hoping that the best scorer in the league can eventually find some wiggle room.

Eventually, Durant does exactly that. He finds that crack in the defense by faking a screen for Brown and then repositioning at the top of the arc. When LeVert falls behind the play after falling for Durant’s fake screen, KD attacks directly off the catch and elevates for the short-range jumper.

“I mean, their defense was kinda, I mean, they were just doing anything,” said Bruce Brown about the Cavaliers. “Their big was standing in the paint... so I was just trying to be aggressive, get (Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) the ball in spots, I know they can score. And just give them a little bit of space.”

The Nets didn’t just allow Bruce to set up the offense in the halfcourt at the top of the key; they also empowered him to push the break and kickstart Brooklyn’s transition game, as the Nets had been for much of the last two months. As one of Brooklyn’s quicker, more dangerous downhill players, better than just about any other Net not named Kyrie at finishing through contact, it only makes sense to have Brown create plays with the defense backtracking.

Here, he receives the ball from Seth Curry and flies up the court to find Kevin Durant streaking to the rim, and Andre Drummond finishes with the flush.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Nets tap into this strategy going forward. Tuesday was Brooklyn’s best performance against a zone defense—a defensive strategy these Nets will surely see going forward given their struggles with it throughout the regular season. Heck, Brooklyn may even see a similar style of coverage as early as Sunday against Boston.

But with Bruce Brown initiating the offense and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant wreaking havoc away from the action, it appears the Nets may already have their exploit.

KD not pleased by Brown comment

Consider it the enthusiasm of a young player and one who’d like to make a name for himself in his hometown.

Post-game, Bruce Brown spoke about his team’s prospects against the team he grew up watching and rooting for in Dorchester, Mass.

“Now they don’t have Robert Williams, so they have less of a presence in the paint,” Brown said. “We can attack [Daniel] Theis and [Al] Horford in the paint. Them not having Robert Williams is huge.”

Williams is out for at least for the first few games of the Boston series. He underwent surgery on his torn left meniscus March 30 but there is a small possibility he’ll be ready to play some minutes vs. the Nets.

KD asked, “what did Bruce Brown say when he got up here?” When told, Durant dismissed his 25-year-old teammate’s comment.

“That’s caffeine pride talking,” Durant said. “Those two dudes [Horford and Theis] can do the same stuff [as Williams]. They ain’t going to be that easy, I can tell you that.

“We respect our opponents. We don’t need to talk about what we’re going to do to them. I didn’t like that. ... We don’t need to say s--t like that. Let’s just go out there and hoop.“

Time off!

After the game, the NBA distributed details on the first round playoffs...

There are a number of implications here. The schedule is spread out and that’s a good thing for the Nets, the Celtics, Ben Simmons and Robert Williams.

The Nets will now have three full days off before they have to travel to Beantown on Saturday. That’s their most time off between games since the All-Star Break. The Celtics of course have an even longer layoff. (By Game 1 Sunday, The Nets will not have spent a day out of New York for two weeks. They played the Hawks on April 2. Their only other road game was against the Knicks on April 6. Rest is good.)

The extra days will also permit both Simmons and Williams to get more time to rehab and maybe practice, making their returns more likely. Neither of course are certain to return. IF you believe Shams Charania who reported Monday that Simmons could return by Game 3, that would be Saturday, April 23, 10 days away.

Brigade heads to Boston

They know all about the Brooklyn Brigade in New York and Philadelphia. Now, the denizens of Barclays Center Section 1 are headed to Boston to share some love. It is, after all, the Brooklyn Way.

Milestone Watch

Kyrie Irving (34 points, 12 assists) and Kevin Durant (25 points, 11 assists) are the first Nets teammates to record 20+ points and 10+ assists in the same game since Derrick Coleman and Rumeal Robinson on April 15, 1993 vs. Boston.

Kyrie Irving went 12-of-12 from the field through three quarters en route to a game-high 34 points. The 12 field goals made without a miss are the most to start a game in Irving’s career (previous high: 10 straight, done twice).

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Boston Celtics v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets will play the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The series will begin at TD Garden in Boston on Sunday, April 17. The time of the contest is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcasted on ABC.

For a different perspective on Tuesday’s Play-In game, check out Fear The Sword — our sister site covering the Cleveland Cavaliers.