The Cavaliers reportedly want to face the Nets in the playoffs. Nothing that happened between the teams Tuesday night likely convinced them otherwise.
The Nets couldn’t handle New York-bred star Donovan Mitchell and couldn’t stop the Cavaliers, losing 115-109 before a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center.
Mitchell poured in a game-high 31 points, threw down a poster-worthy dunk over Yuta Watanabe, and was serenaded with chants of “MVP! MVP!” in the Nets’ own building. And frankly he looked like one.
Facing a pivotal week for their postseason prospects, the Nets (39-33) has lost four consecutive games. They trail the fifth-seeded Knicks by 2 ½ games and their once-healthy lead over seventh-seeded Miami has shriveled to just one-half game. The Knicks and Heat were both idle Tuesday night, but will face each other Wednesday night in Miami.
The Nets will host the Cavaliers (46-28) again Thursday night before heading to play in Miami on Saturday to wrap up this crucial week of games.
After the Nets led 30-23 following one quarter, the Heat started the second quarter with a 23-8 run to grab the lead away. Then, the Nets surrendering a 23-5 blitz at the start of the third to lose the game.
Mitchell’s star power and Cleveland’s size advantage (at least indirectly) proved too much to handle. The Nets crashed the boards to actually outrebound the Cavaliers 49-34, but paid for it with a lack of fast-break leak-outs and inability to defend the arc. The Cavaliers shot 14-for-29 from 3-point range.
Reserve center Day’Ron Sharpe led the Nets with 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, while Spencer Dinwiddie added 19 points and 11 assists. But the Nets were just 9-for-31 from behind the arc.
The flaws that have the fourth-seeded Cavaliers hoping for a first-round matchup with the Nets instead of the Knicks, according to Cleveland.com, were on full display.
“I heard something like that too. I don’t know if they think it’s sweet; but we’ll match up with anybody,” said Nic Claxton, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. “We’re just trying to take it game-by-game, win as many games as we can and get as high a seed as possible. And if that’s our matchup, then we’ll take care of them.”
It will take some improving.
The Nets ran out to their 30-23 lead after a seven-point, five-rebound first quarter from Claxton.
The lead was still 32-27 with 10:50 left in the first half after Mikal Bridges (18 points) hit a midrange fadeaway off a feed from Seth Curry. But a 16-4 Cleveland blitz changed all that.
The Nets shot just 2-for-8 over that span, including just 1-for-4 in the paint, and the Cavaliers flipped the momentum. By the time former Net Jarrett Allen (12 points, 14 boards) banked in a hook shot, Cleveland was up 43-36.
Caris LeVert, another former Net traded away in the James Harden deal, found Cedi Osman, who scored to make it 46-38 Cavaliers with 5:01 left in the half.
The Nets were still hanging around at the break, down just 61-55. But coming out of the locker room, they lost contact altogether.
After having already given up one huge run to open the second quarter, the Nets conceded another run at the start of the third and abandoned all hope of victory. Mitchell’s 3-pointer was the final dagger of the Cavaliers’ 23-5 blitz.
The Nets were ice-cold during the game-sealing run, missing seven of nine shots. And Cleveland went 9-for-13, capped by a crossover by Mitchell to create space from Dorian Finney-Smith and Mitchell’s ensuing pull-up. That shot padded the Cavaliers’ cushion to 84-60 with 6:16 left in the third.
LeVert’s pump-fake 3-pointer to beat the buzzer, which made it 94-78 entering the fourth quarter, was the most spectacular play of the night. That was, until a minute into the fourth, when Mitchell threw down a monstrous fast-break dunk on Watanabe, posterizing the Nets’ forward.
Cam Johnson hit a running 3-pointer to pull the Nets within 108-97 with 4:43 left to play. They got within six points multiple times, but no closer.
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