Nets 123, Cavaliers 109: Brooklyn Clinches No. 2 Seed

The Brooklyn Nets closed out a historic season with a 123-109 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers to clinch the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

With the win, the Nets have finished the season with a record of 48-24 for a franchise record winning percentage of .667. They finished 24 games over .500, the largest margin in franchise history. Their 48 wins are the third-most in franchise history, accomplished in this shortened 72-game season.

Brooklyn closed the season winning 34 of its final 46 games dating back to Feb. 10, including 15 of their final 17 home games at Barclays Center.

“You think about all the things that have been thrown at us, how difficult this year was for everybody just with the condensed schedule and all the protocols you know, really proud of our team,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “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. So a lot to be thankful for but this is what we came for so we now we get to work and really go at it.”

The Nets went wire-to-wire over the Cavs, racing to an early 17-point lead that ballooned to 25 points late in the third quarter before they cruised to the finish.

Brooklyn had seven players score in double figures and shot 56.6 percent overall and 53.3 percent from 3-point range.

Kevin Durant finished up with a double-double, scoring 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting with 13 assists and eight rebounds. Kyrie Irving had 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, making all three of his 3-point attempts and grabbing six rebounds.

Irving became the ninth player in NBA history — joining Nash and Durant among others — to finish the season shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range, and 90 percent from the free throw line. Irving’s final numbers came in at a 50.6 field goal percentage, 40.2 3-point percentage, and 92.2 free throw percentage. Irving closed the season making 96 of his final 99 free throws over his last 25 games.

“Kyrie was incredible this year,” said Nash. “So efficient, such a talented player who just makes incredible shots every night. So to be able to make those shots to create the space to take those shots, to convert at such an efficient rate, is incredible. So remarkable player, remarkable accomplishment and really proud that I can see it first hand.”

Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet scored 12 points each and Jeff Green and Tyler Johnson each scored 10.

Brooklyn jumped out to a 17-4 lead behind two early 3-pointers from Shamet and another from Irving that put the Nets up by 13. The three spree kept on, with Irving hitting another, Johnson connecting, and then Green making it a 31-14 lead, with the Nets at that point having made 12 of their first 17 shots, including 6-of-8 3-pointers. A James triple — Brooklyn’s seventh of the first quarter — put the Nets up 34-22 before they took a 34-24 lead into the second quarter.

Cleveland cut the Brooklyn lead to six points in the second quarter before Blake Griffin answered with an inside finish and James turned a steal into a layup. James closed the first half with a jumper and then an off-the-backboard assist on a Durant dunk to put the Nets up 67-56 at halftime, having shot 64.3 percent overall and 56.3 percent from 3-point range in the first half.

“We came out with the requisite energy,” said Nash. “You know, it’s nice to score the ball, but it’s also nice to get stops early in the game, to get rebounds, to get out and push it in transition. You know, the offense was a byproduct of that in many ways. But it’s also kind of where our team – I don’t know – is naturally born and bred at the offensive end. But the defense, the level of physicality and the attention to detail was important to start the game in that manner.”

The Nets were up 82-70 midway through the third quarter when they broke the game open for good with a 15-2 run. First came eight straight points, with a Durant 3-pointer putting Brooklyn up 90-70 at the four-minute mark. After a Cleveland score, Brown made two free throws, Green hit a 3-pointer, and Claxton dunked in transition off a Durant feed for a 97-72 lead with 1:26 to go in the third quarter. The Nets took a 99-76 lead into the fourth on the way to closing out the regular season with five straight wins and an eye on the playoffs.