The Brooklyn Nets secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with pizzazz on Sunday night, completing one of the most impressive plays of the team’s season during their 123-109 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the final seconds of the first half, Blake Griffin intercepted Cedi Osman’s off-kilter attempt to save the ball from bouncing out of bounds. Griffin fed the ball upcourt to Kyrie Irving with a spinning, behind-the-back, right-handed pass. Irving then hurled the ball to Mike James, who was just inside the 3-point line.
James laid the ball up off the backboard for Kevin Durant to slam it down in a Harlem Globetrotters-like finish that brought the limited-capacity crowd in Barclays Center to its feet, cleared the Nets’ bench in excitement and even earned a smile from referee Marat Kogut.
“It felt like it was laid on a platter for us,” Durant said. “It happened so fast; I don’t think we forced anything. And those are usually the best plays, when it just organically happens. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
James was relieved that Durant completed the play.
“I was a little nervous,” James said, smiling. “If it would have been bad, I think my Nets career would have been over.”
Afterward, Griffin joked that he was the maestro of the whole undertaking.
“Listen, I don’t like to pat myself on the back,” Griffin said, grinning. “But I did get that thing started. I was yelling at everybody to take off. I passed it to Kyrie, and then I was yelling at Kyrie to pass it to Mike, and I told Mike to throw it off the backboard. Kevin just dunked it. I didn’t tell him anything. I don’t want to take credit for it. Those guys did it. I was just kind of orchestrating from behind.”
Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said that from his vantage point on the sidelines, he was left wondering: “‘We think we cute now?'”
The Nets went on to beat Cleveland in their final game of the season on Sunday. They pulled out the win without James Harden, who sat out to rest his hamstring on the second night of back-to-back games. The victory means the Milwaukee Bucks will have the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and face off against the Miami Heat in the first round, while the Nets will face the winner of the Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards play-in matchup.
Sunday’s contest marked the third time that Durant has played in both games of a back-to-back this season. He finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists. Irving had 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. James added 14 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists off the bench.
Irving shot 8-of-10 from the field on Sunday and 1-of-2 from 3-point range, and he was a perfect 6-of-6 at the free throw line. His performance solidified Irving’s place in the “50/40/90” club — reserved for players who shoot 50% or greater from the field, 40% or better from 3-point range and at least 90% on free throws.
Irving shot 50.6% from the field this season, 40.2% on 3s and 90.2% from the free throw line. He joins Larry Bird, Stephen Curry and Durant as the only players to average at least 25 points per game during a 50-40-90 season
“Phenomenal season from Ky,” Durant said. “He’s a guy who can get it from anywhere on the floor at any time at that size is remarkable. Point guards that get 50/40/90 is just so much more impressive to me. I’m very happy for Kyrie, and I’m sure this won’t be his last time.”
Irving did not speak to reporters after the game.
The Nets also were without Joe Harris, who was diagnosed with a left gluteal strain. After the game, Nash said that while he expected Harden to be available to practice with the team on Tuesday, Harris might miss a few practices this week.
“There’s a case where he may not practice the whole week, but that’s OK,” Nash said of Harris. “He’s played a lot of minutes this year, and we want him to heal up as best he possibly can and kind of not have to chase this thing through the playoffs and have it linger. I’d rather he resolves it than practice this week.”
With Harden unavailable on Sunday, the Nets finished the regular season with their Big Three playing just eight games together. No team’s three leading scorers have played fewer than 10 games together and gone on to win a championship.
The 2000-01 Lakers’ leading scorers of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal played just 10 games together, and they won the title, but they also had played together in prior seasons. Durant said that he isn’t concerned about the lack of time he has had with Harden and Irving to build chemistry.
“I think we’re the ‘Big 15,'” Durant said of his team. “So, yeah, we’ll be all right.”