CLEVELAND – Nets had Kyrie Irving, but without the injured Kevin Durant they are simply a very different, less powerful team. Irving did his best to fill the void with 27 points, but that was not enough as the Cavaliers scored a 114-107 victory in a Martin Luther King Day matinee Monday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
The Nets took a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Cavs responded with eight points in a row, including six by Darius Garland, to take a 101-97 lead with 5:12 left. But James Harden made mistakes on two three-pointers and made six foul shots in an 8-4 rise to level the game at 105 with 3:43 left.
Bu, Cavs finished the game on a 9-2 run as the Nets only made one of their last seven shots and made a turnover. “In the end, we had easy opportunities to convert, and we did not convert,” said Nets coach Steve Nash. “But for me, who gave 65 points in the first half, we had a lot of defensive errors that we were not happy with. That’s how the game is.”
Irving took control of the Nets (27-16) on 12-for-23 shooting plus nine assists, Harden added 22 points and 10 assists, LaMarcus Aldridge had 13 and Patty Mills and Kessler Edwards each added 11. Garland topped the Cavaliers (27) – 18) with 22 points and 12 assists, Isaac Okoro had 15, former Net Jarrett Allen had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Lauri Markkanen and Kevin Love each had 14 points.
The Nets were without Durant, who suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee during their victory over the Pelicans on Saturday in Brooklyn. The Cavaliers built a 65-59 break, but the Nets ended the third period with a 13-2 rise that ended with seven straight points from Irving to take an 88-87 lead en route to the fourth quarter.
Harden acknowledged the Nets’ shooting problems in the fourth quarter, but said the game was lost earlier. “I do not think it’s about down the stretch,” Harden said. “As a unit, it was just too much to give 65 points in the first half. The second half we were much better, but we just had to be better in the first half of the match and I think that’s a different result. “
The rescue for the Nets without Durant is that they started a stretch where they play nine out of 11 away games. That meant they wanted Irving for the nine road games, as he is not eligible to play in New York or Toronto as long as he remains unvaccinated.
Asked how difficult it will be for the Nets to play without Durant, Irving said: “For me personally it was a big hit. You feel it energetically, the presence in the locker room. Everyone is going to feel it, but for me personally it is “It’s like we’re just getting started again, and here we are again. One of our guys is out for a long time. We just have to face reality, man, and move on.”
Notes and quotes: Before the match, Nash said Durant will be out for “weeks”, not days. Harden, Durant and Irving played just two games together this season and 16 in total since the Nets bought Harden a year ago. Durant is likely to be out at least through the All-Star break, which begins on February 18th. The Nets play 23 games after the break, but Irving is only eligible to play eight of them because he cannot play in New York or Toronto. Asked how the Big Three should develop any context before the playoffs, Nash said, “We just have to do the best we can. We can not cry over it.”