By BRIAN MAHONEY – AP basketball writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 34 points and 12 assists, Kevin Durant added 25 points and 11 assists, and the Brooklyn Nets clinched seventh place in the Eastern Conference by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 115-108 on Tuesday night defeated the play-in opener.
The Nets raced to a 20-point lead after a quarter and kept sending the Cavaliers away to win a matchup with No. 2 Boston in a series that begins Sunday.
Irving made his first 12 shots before cornering a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. He finished 12 for 15.
As a preseason NBA Finals favorite that stuttered through a tumultuous season and finished 10th in the final week of the regular season, the Nets have notched up five straight wins. With Durant and Irving, they are much more dangerous than the usual number 7.
And both are willing to give the ball to teammates who capitalize when they get it. Bruce Brown had 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists while Andre Drummond had 16 points.
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Darius Garland scored 34 points for the Cavaliers, who have another chance to earn the No. 8. They will host the winner of the Atlanta-Charlotte game on Friday, with the winner taking on No. 1 Miami.
Brooklyn and Cleveland both went 44-38, but the Nets clinched the tiebreak by beating the Cavs at Barclays Center last Friday to finish 3-1 against them. Cleveland was confident it could return to Brooklyn and win, although it was quickly realized how difficult that would be.
The Nets made almost 71% of their shots in the first quarter — Irving and Durant made all eight of them combined — and ended the period with a 15-3 spurt that made it 40-20. It was a bigger lead than Brooklyn had in any first quarter during the regular season.
The offense stuttered, as it usually does, as Durant benched to start the second and Cleveland hit a 9-2 run to cut it to 13. The lead stayed right there for the rest of the half, with the Cavs missing a series of open looks before Irving’s jumper on the buzzer made it 57-43. He was 9-9 at the break.
The Cavaliers, attempting to extend a surprise season in which they doubled their overall wins from a season ago, continued to perform in the second half. But they too often missed an open 3-pointer or gave up extra possession on an offensive rebound that the Nets would capitalize on.
Nic Claxton had 13 points and nine rebounds for Brooklyn.
Cavaliers: Evan Mobley had 19 points and Kevin Love had 14 points and 13 rebounds. … The Cavaliers were left without all-star center Jarrett Allen because of a broken finger.
Nets: Irving’s 9-on-9 first half wasn’t even his best for Brooklyn. He was 10-10 against Chicago on Jan. 31, 2020. … Brooklyn went 3-1 to Boston in the regular season. The Nets defeated the Celtics 4-1 in the first round last season. … Goran Dragic returned after missing the end of the regular season in health and safety protocols. He had three points in 10 minutes.
The Nets and the New York Liberty Foundation announced before a minute’s silence that they would be donating $50,000 to help those injured after at least 10 people were shot dead on a subway train Tuesday. The shooting happened at the subway station closest to the Nets’ training facility.
Nash said Ben Simmons is moving better and shooting more, but there’s no timeline for when he’ll finally be able to play for the Nets. Simmons, who was on the bench in a matching green jacket and shorts, has struggled with back problems since taking over from Philadelphia in February.
“So definitely positive signs of improving and moving and all those things, but like I said, he wasn’t running at full speed or playing against anyone,” Nash said. “So still a lot of marks to hit.”
Allen seemed ready to return for the play-in game, but the Cavaliers’ big man isn’t quite ready just yet.
Bickerstaff said the All-Star, who joined Cleveland from the Nets last season, has been doing individual practice for the past two days as the team’s practice had to focus on available players in preparation for Brooklyn.
“He’s fine,” said coach JB Bickerstaff, who has been without Allen for more than a month. “He trains; he’s starting to do more with both hands. We’re just waiting.”
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