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Nets lose heart breaker as Cavs come back late, 116-114

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

For anyone who likes to romanticize the late 2010s Brooklyn Nets, tonight’s game had everything: Joe Harris threes, Spencer Dinwiddie drives, Jarrett Allen jams, Caris LeVert pull-ups, and unfortunately — a losing effort.

The mental gymnastics created by the Nets in getting to tonight’s finish line were remarkable, but for all the wrong reasons. And in the end, the result was wrong, too. Cleveland Cavaliers 116, Brooklyn Nets 114.

“Emotionally you’re going to be spent a little bit, so I think you learn about can you let it go and move on,” said Jacque Vaughn. “There are a lot of good things that we did tonight. So can we grab on to those days but also emotionally reload to play another game?”

“Obviously we gotta keep the energy and morale high. But it’s devastating you know losing like that. I mean everybody’s talking, we’re all trying to help each other. Not just one guy everybody,” said Mikal Bridges whose 32 points was game high but whose turnover with 1:18 left started the spoilage that allowed Cleveland to win it in the end.

“We’re trying to do this at an accelerated pace, right? We’re basically in training camp for this group,” added Spencer Dinwiddie who like Bridges had a solid game — 25 points and 12 assists — but who also like Bridges had a turnover at the end.

Brooklyn began the game much like their previous one against the visiting Cavaliers. Donovan Mitchell stormed out of the gates to put up 12 points in the first period. The Nets struggled to hit open shots especially from deep but stayed within striking distance. After Day’Ron Sharpe spark to close the period, another recurring theme from last night, Brooklyn jumped out to 33-31 lead after the first period.

The “basketball is a game of runs” cliche had to have been echoed endlessly throughout Barclays Center during the second period. Brooklyn squeaked into quarter two with that small lead, but a few too many turnovers from the Nets shot them down nine about halfway through the frame.

Dinwiddie promptly came off the bench and provided a spark — an act that he performed dozens of times during his first stint with the Nets and made him a fan favorite. The tech guy with the jumper splashed a corner three, then jetted past Allen for a quick layup shortly after. A Nic Claxton slam later and the Nets were down a basket with just under five minutes until the break. Riding that wave, Brooklyn took a 61-60 lead into halftime.

Between those runs, Brooklyn’s +12 advantage on the glass helped them etch out their halftime advantage. The team’s defense looked far sharper than their previous game as well. Cleveland struggled to penetrate Brooklyn’s defense. Cedi Osman forgetting to take his Steph Curry pills this time around also played a hand.

The teams switched things up in the third period, this time going punch for punch with each other. Neither squad extended much of a lead. Claxton played a large role in that on the defensive end for the Nets. While a few of his efforts went down as goaltends, he leaped at the ball like a heat-seeking missile seemingly every time it soared toward the rim for a potential Cleveland field goal.

Joe Harris kept Brooklyn afloat in the fourth, hitting four threes to push himself over the career 1,000 mark with this shot to give the Nets a nine-point lead with 7:54 left in the game...

“It’s just who he is as a person, as a player. He’s determined, he’s the ultimate teammate. And we’ve increased his minutes in the last few games and he’s really played well,” said Vaughn.

Harris post-game comment on the achievement was the typically humble Joe E. Buckets response but also it reflected the tenor of the Nets locker room. Individual achievement is great, but they lost.

“I’ve been here a long time and I shoot a lot of threes.” said Harris, the most senior Net who finished 5-of-8 on the night for 15 points. He was the only Net to have a good shooting night from three. Bridges, Dorian Finney-Smith and Cam Johnson were a combined 3-of-15.

The real fireworks, of course, came in the final minute. With the Cavs creeping close with under a minute to play, Dinwiddie again drove past Allen and then floated the ball over Evan Mobley to put Brooklyn up four with 29 seconds to play.

Donovan Mitchell marched down the court shortly after, splashing a jumper, but still leaving the game in Brooklyn’s hands. But the Nets couldn’t hang on. Cleveland pressed the Nets in the full court. Dinwiddie drove forward and heaved the ball at Dorian Finney-Smith. DOE secured the rock, but not his balance along the sideline. Mitchell intercepted his pass and drew a foul.

“Obviously when you’re getting trapped you’re supposed to have a couple guys slice to the ball,” said Dinwiddie. “It was a little bit delayed. So sometimes you try to throw a guy open. In hindsight I should have called timeout. So I accept full responsibility for that.”

Spida hit his first free throw to pull the Cavs within one. He then missed his second, only for the rebound to bounce off the hands of several Brooklyn players. It then rolled out to a wide open Isaac Okoro who buried the would-be game winner with 0.7 seconds to play.

Here’s a good perspective of the miserable end. It’s all there.

After pulling off all the acrobatics, Cleveland stuck the landing with a 116-114 win, simultaneously handing the Nets their fifth loss in a row and dropping them into the seven seed ... and the play-in tournament. Bridges finished with a team high 32 points on 11-of-19 field goals.

“I think they were a little late to realize they had the trap and so we have enough shooters out there for them to follow us,” said the head coach. “But we were in good position to continue to spray the ball around because they were gonna have to foul us.”

Vaughn also addressed the recurring Nets issues figuring out who takes the big shot down the stretch.

“This group is continuing to figure out who’s going to shoot the ball at the end, where that shot’s going to come from, what the formation is going to be,” said Vaughn, adding his perpetual optimism, “I thought overall the people who are in the game were in pretty good spots to make good things happen.”

There were positives, of course. Harris is shooting better than 47% from deep since February 1 and his five threes were the most he’s had in a game since he dropped six back on February 11.

Bridges. although he shot only 2-of-7 from three, had his eighth 30 piece in 18 games as a Net. He’s now averaging 25.8 points in Brooklyn, with 50/40/90 shooting splits.

Dinwiddie had his seven 10-assist game as well, compared to two in Dallas. And Nic Claxton once again showed his competitive streak as well as his defense, finishing with 11 points, nine boards and three blocks and playing Allen even. Day’Ron Sharpe didn’t have a 20-and-11 game as he did in the first encounter with Cleveland but again he had some highlights around the rim.

But a win is a win and a loss is a loss and this one will sting.

Ben Simmons update: maybe the playoffs?

Jacque Vaughn was once again asked about Ben Simmons potential return this season and the Nets coach offered a little news, none of it encouraging.

Simmons, he said, has yet to practice with either the starters or the second unit, aka the “stay ready” group, the unit that the Nets use to get injured players back on the court.

“It is not with teammates, and so I’ll say that piece of it,” the head coach said pre-game Thursday. “He hasn’t scripted with our group — first group, second group or anything of that nature.”

With Simmons having now missed 15 straight games with a combination of left knee and back soreness, Vaughn was asked about the playoffs which begin on April 16 (or five days earlier if Brooklyn is in the play-in.

“I don’t even think that far ahead. I don’t even complicate my life that way,” Vaughn said. “I’m concerned about today’s game and if those questions present themselves I’ll be more than willing to see how he fits with the group and answer them at that time, but I don’t even wanna look that far ahead.”

The Nets now have nine games left in the regular season.

Milestone Watch

Other than Harris’ 1000th career three, not much to crow about. Of his 1,002 three’s, 970 have been with the Nets. Harris made four threes in the fourth quarter, tied for the most threes made by a Net in a fourth quarter this season.

The Nets wore green — actually seafoam — along with their home whites in honor of Women’s Impact Month and the seafoam-and-black New York Liberty, their co-tenants at Barclays Center.

What’s Next?

Brooklyn will visit Miami for their next game, knocking on their door both literally and in the standings on Saturday night. With tonight’s loss, the Nets dropped into the seven seed and the play-in tournament, now sitting a half game back of the Heat.

“Every game’s important, just gotta take it day by day. Just gotta win,” said Bridges of the increasing pressure on the Nets.

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