In a game featuring Nets superstars Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant, the top player on the floor in the second overtime was Cavaliers third-year pro Collin Sexton.
Sexton had four three-pointers in quick succession to guide Cleveland to a 147-135 victory.
This isn’t how Wednesday night was supposed to be for Brooklyn after the team traded to Harden last week and Irving returned from a mysterious two-week absence. But while the Nets’ stretches of ineptitude confirmed concerns about their defense after the Harden deal, their moments of brilliance should perhaps be the main advantage of the loss. Brooklyn recovered from a 14-point deficit at the end of the third quarter to send the contest beyond regulation, sometimes using breathtakingly paced passes to unlock openings.
Irving, Harden and Durant combined to score 96 points on a 49.3% effective shooting clip from the field. If it weren’t for a once-per-season Sexton blast, coach Steve Nash’s side likely would have escaped with a win.
And the mere presence of their enigmatic leader should offer the Nets their greatest hope of cohesion to move forward.
“I’m just excited for the future,” said Irving, who has spent the previous seven games away from the team for personal reasons.
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Four minutes after his back to basketballIrving recognized the sparse crowd of about 2,000 gathered at Quicken Loans Arena and pointed out his ring finger. The place had just presented him with a tribute video recounting his crowning achievement with the organization: a 2016 NBA championship won with the help of his iconic rider on Stephen Curry. The fans offered a standing ovation.
The fact that the Nets’ third best player is worthy of emotional tribute videos is a testament to their absurd talent.
Another reminder of their abilities came soon after when Harden sped up on the floor flanked by Irving to his left and Durant to his right in a quick 3-on-1 break. Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman was petrified. , not knowing which great shooting creator of all time to keep. He chose Harden. Harden chose Irving. Irving chose a delicious window scoop for two points.
These were the sequences in which everything seemed obvious on the list. How could the group not get big? Name sports teams that have failed in the past because of too many good players. Too many Hall of Famers. Too many centerpieces of global brand campaigns.
The third quarter, however, apparently punched holes in what GM Sean Marks did by dispatching big man Jarrett Allen, striker Taurean Prince, extraordinary sixth man Caris LeVert and so many future first players for Harden. With DeAndre Jordan on the floor, the Nets struggled to defend inside. At the same time, they managed to neglect the assignments along the perimeter. Even though their own offensive ball movement looked pretty good, the lack of saves on the other end was a concern.
“Look, this was the first night we had everyone together,” coach Steve Nash told reporters. “It will be a process that will take the whole year.”
The process can only work if everyone is involved.
Irving not only appearing but also scoring 37 points after his long time away from his teammates, it was easier to imagine it all coming together, with the previews featured on Wednesday becoming more and more frequent until a contender for the final was born.
The Duke product, whose interest in its sport has been questioned by some people recently, has shown a lot of emotion on the pitch as the game progressed. When he called for a pass in Durant’s corner in the fourth quarter and didn’t get it, he still pumped his fist when Durant emptied a midrange jumper. When he was whistled for an offensive foul with 1.5 seconds left in rule – a decision later overturned – he reacted forcefully towards the nearest official.
Irving was the player Brooklyn needs him if he’s going to get things across heading into the playoffs.
“Two occupational therapists in your first return match?” Irving asked rhetorically after the game. “You must love NBA basketball, my brother.”
The Nets hope he will.