The Nets wanted the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Sunday they clinched it, with a 123-109 rout of Cleveland.
Now comes the task of doing something with it.
A child’s play victory over the Cavaliers before 1,773 at Barclays Center — including co-owner Clara Wu Tsai, seated courtside next to Alicia Keys — was the final game of the regular season. The preamble is done, now comes the playoffs.
Kevin Durant (game-high 23 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (17 points, 3-of-3 from deep) led the way, as usual. Irving became just the ninth player in history to finish the season shooting splits of 50/40/90, and only the fourth to ever do it averaging 25 points.
Despite James Harden being rested on the tail end of a back-to-back, the Nets blew past the Cavaliers (22-50) and to the No. 2 seed they wanted.
“I think the basic necessity is to try to win the game, to be the second seed. We place value on that,” Steve Nash had said. “And second [priority] would be a good performance, a sharp performance where we try to execute on both ends of the floor and are professional and competitive and play with the requisite physicality and passion.”
They did all that, and then some. They put seven scorers in double figures, shooting a white-hot .561 overall and 16-of-30 from behind the arc. They held the Cavs to just 12-of-38 from deep.
The Nets (48-24) finished 24 games above .500, the highest they’ve ever been above the water mark at any point in any season. And they look like a team poised to make even more franchise history. Title history.
The No. 2 seed is their best finish in the East standings since 2002-03. It locks them into a first-round playoff date against the No. 7 seed. They’ll await the winner of the first play-in game between the Wizards and Celtics on Tuesday (9 p.m. TNT).
And — despite Harden resting his hamstring and Joe Harris having missed a third straight with a glute issue — they’ll actually be healthy when they get there.
The Nets will have the momentum of a five-game winning streak when they reach the postseason — and presumably all of their Big 3 fit for duty against either the Celtics or Wizards.
“I think we’re all there. We obviously know what’s left here and what we’re playing for. If we win or we lose, we understand the parameters,” Nash had said beforehand. “But at the same time, that’s next weekend: Right now, we’ve got to worry about [Cleveland] and finish the regular season off well, not only for the standings but for our collective growth.”
Turns out they needn’t have worried over the Cavs.
Brooklyn stormed out of the starting blocks to a quick 14-4 lead on Bruce Brown’s driving bank shot. The Nets padded it to 28-11 on Tyler Johnson’s 3-pointer, and 31-14 on a corner 3 by Jeff Green.
The Nets did cough up eight unanswered points, but were never challenged again. They didn’t let the lead get smaller than six the rest of the way.
It was 63-56 with less than a minute left in the half, but Mike James hit a stepback jumper, then got a steal on a bad pass by Damyean Dotson.
Blake Griffin made a behind-the-back save upcourt to Irving, who tapped it to James. The guard tossed a lob to Durant off the backboard for a dunk that brought the bench to its feet, electrified the crowd and even had Nets owner Joe Tsai tweeting, “Oh my God!”
The play was suitably impressive. Brown blocking Jarrett Allen at the buzzer was just icing on the cake, sending the Nets into the locker room up 67-56.
The third quarter saw Durant take an elbow to the mouth from Collin Sexton (16 points) as the Cavs guard drove. Durant, initially called for a foul, had to check his teeth afterward. The call was reversed, Sexton got hit with a Flagrant 2 and sent off.
When Durant found Nic Claxton for a dunk with 1:26 left in the third, the lead was 97-72 at the contest was over.