The Nets Led Wire-To-Wire To Beat The Cavaliers And Earn A Matchup With Boston

After 82 games of regular season action, the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers finished with 44 wins. Appropriately, the two teams matched up in the opening game of the 2022 NBA Play-In Tournament on Tuesday evening, with a spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs and a date with the Boston Celtics in the first round on the line. The Nets entered as significant betting favorites, led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and Brooklyn led wire-to-wire to win by a final margin of 115-108.

The Nets started the game in explosive fashion, even with Durant and Irving taking only a small handful of shots in the opening minutes. Led by Bruce Brown’s early energy on both ends, Brooklyn build a lead, and Durant extended it to 17-9 with a breathtaking sequence including a block against Lauri Markkanen and a pass to Drummond for an easy bucket.

Cleveland did counter with talented lead guard Darius Garland, who scored seven points in his first eight minutes. Garland’s creativity is always impressive, and it was on full display.

The Nets kept their strong start going on offense, however, as Brooklyn went on a 21-6 run to open the lead to 40-20 at the end of the first quarter. Durant and Irving combined to score 15 straight points for the Nets, and when Goran Dragic, Patty Mills, and Nic Claxton got into the action with jump shots late in the first quarter, it was a full-fledged barrage.

Brooklyn shot 71 percent from the floor and 4-for-6 from three-point range in the opening period, reminding observers of why the Nets are terrifying in a playoff scenario when firing on all cylinders. The Nets scored 40 points on only 23 possessions, and the 20-point edge was the largest deficit for the Cavaliers after the opening period all season.

After the quarter break, Cleveland found its footing, using a 9-2 run to slash the deficit. Brooklyn scored only two points in the first five and a half minutes, and the Cavaliers avoided what could’ve been a disaster if the onslaught carried over from the opening period.

Cleveland’s offense wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire, but Brooklyn’s offensive struggles continued. The Nets committed seven turnovers, including three instances in which players inexplicably stepped out of bounds, and Brooklyn tallied only eight points in the first ten minutes of the second period.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, the margin was still double-digits when Brooklyn’s drought came to an end, and Irving continued to cook. In fact, Irving scored seven points in the final 46 seconds, punctuating a 20-point half in which he made all nine shots that he attempted.

Early in the third, the Nets continued to build their advantage, using a 10-4 run to push the advantage back to 20 points, Irving made his tenth consecutive shot, with no signs of slowing down.

The Cavaliers did not roll over, putting together a 14-4 response to keep things manageable with a 12-point deficit. Cleveland’s offense came alive a bit, especially when compared to early shooting woes, and the Cavaliers strung a few stops together in the process.

After a mini-flurry on both sides, the Nets took a 12-point lead to the fourth quarter, with Irving still operating without a single missed shot. He did finally come up empty on an attempt but, in making his first 12 shots, Irving set a new career-best for most consecutive makes to begin a game.

Though there was plenty of attention on Irving, the more consequential activity came on the team side, and the Cavaliers began to heat up to begin the fourth quarter. Garland scored nine points in less than four minutes for Cleveland, bringing the visitors within an 88-82 margin with plenty of time to make a charge.

With fewer than five minutes to go, the Cavaliers were within six at 99-93, but the Nets had Kevin Durant. Durant buried back-to-back jumpers, with the second coming over the outstretched hand of Evan Mobley to give Brooklyn a double-digit cushion again.

That was, effectively, the dagger sequence of the evening. Cleveland did climb within six points on two different occasions in the final 90 seconds, but the final result was never in doubt after the Nets generated easy buckets on each ensuing possession.

Brooklyn did cool off after the first quarter, though the Nets still finished with 54 percent shooting and 33 assists. Irving was masterful with 34 points (on 12-for-15 shooting) and 12 assists, with Durant adding 25 points, 11 assists, and three blocked shots. The Nets did need all of that production from their stars, and the duo of Brown (18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) and Drummond (16 points, eight rebounds) was helpful to the cause.

The Nets will begin a best-of-seven series with a road game against Boston on Sunday, with the Cavaliers now forced into a single-elimination scenario on Friday evening. Cleveland will face the loser of Wednesday’s game between the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets, and the Cavaliers will host that matchup.