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Kyrie Irving made his first appearance in two weeks, and even head coach Steve Nash was anxious to see what Brooklyn’s Big 3 would look like in their debut together Wednesday.
The Nets clearly still have a lot of work to do — and their 147-135 double overtime loss at Cleveland, which snapped a four-game winning streak — showed them how much.
The Nets had no answer for Collin Sexton, and the young Cavaliers guard torched them for a game-high 42 points. He scored 18 straight points — including 15 straight spanning the first and second OTs — to send the fans in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse into a tizzy.
Kevin Durant had 38 points, Irving scored 37 and James Harden a triple-double with 21 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. But Sexton, who had missed the previous five games with an ankle injury, outdid them all.
His huge 3-pointer knotted the score at 127-127 with just 1.2 seconds remaining in the first overtime, sending it to a second. Then, he scored 15 points in the second OT.
On the defensive end, the Nets made a Cavaliers team with the worst offensive rating in the NBA (102.16) look like a juggernaut. On the other end, an attack that had been hot suddenly struggled for cohesion upon the reinsertion of Irving.
It was not exactly the Big 3 unveiling the Nets had anticipated.
“I’m curious for sure. Curious sometimes can lead you the wrong way; excited and curious I think more important here,” Nash said beforehand. “I’m not in a rush. If [it] doesn’t feel good or feel right I’m not like, ‘Oh no.’ I’m just like, ‘OK, good, we got one down and we’ll take a look at it and we’ll keep working at it.’
“But I’m just excited because of the possibilities and excited to see the three guys — and their teammates — figure out how to be as dynamic and versatile and connected as possible. I think that’s the most important thing, the attitude, the approach more so than the outcome. There are many outcomes, but if our approach is right, there will be positive outcomes.”
Irving hadn’t played since Jan. 5 due to a personal leave, during which the Nets pulled off the four-team megadeal for Harden. After Irving sat out the previous two games while ramping back up to full speed, his return to Cleveland — only his second game there since requesting a trade from the Cavaliers in 2017 — was highly scrutinized.
It started auspiciously, with the Nets storming right out of the blocks. Joe Harris’ right-corner 3 spotted them to a 23-15 edge. They hit their first 10 shots, the first time they had done that since April 1, 2008, against the 76ers, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
But they suddenly went as cold as they had been hot to start. The Nets missed 11 straight in a six-minute scoreless drought, and the Cavaliers reeled off 17 unanswered points. Former Net Jarrett Allen — traded away in Harden deal — came in and protected the rim, with his putback leaving his old team in a 32-23 hole.
The deficit swelled to 82-69, as the Nets struggled to get stops.
Another player the Nets sent out in the Harden trade, Taurean Prince, came back to haunt them. Prince hit a 3-pointer to put Cleveland ahead 104-92 with 7:16 left in the fourth. But that’s when the Nets finally dug down and rallied.
The Nets closed the period on a 21-9 run. Five straight makes pulled the Nets within 105-102, and Irving put back a Harris miss to knot it at 113 with 1:08 left in regulation. Neither team scored again, and the game went to overtime.
The Nets jumped ahead 118-113 on an Irving 3-pointer and a Durant floater. They couldn’t hold it, with Larry Nance Jr.’s 3-pointer tying it at 120. But Harden found Jeff Green for a 3 of his own to put Brooklyn back up by three. Durant’s free throws with 8.9 seconds left made it 127-124, but Sexton’s huge 3 knotted it again with just 1.2 seconds remaining in the first overtime, sending it to a second.
That’s where Sexton won it.
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