Kyrie Irving produced a near-flawless display of shooting to fire the Brooklyn Nets into the NBA playoffs on Tuesday with a 115-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Irving drained 12 of 15 from the field to finish with 34 points and 12 assists for a victory that sees Brooklyn into a best-of-seven series against the second-seeded Boston Celtics, starting Sunday.
On the evidence of Tuesday’s performance, Irving will be brimming with confidence as he prepares to face his former club in Boston this weekend.
The 30-year-old seven-time All-Star was perfect from the field through the first three quarters, only missing his first shot early in the fourth quarter.
It was the latest in a series of impressive displays from the unvaccinated Irving, who was ruled out of the vast majority of Brooklyn’s home games this season due to Covid-19 regulations in New York.
“We only speak positivity on this entire journey thus far,” Irving said after Tuesday’s win. “It’s been ups and it’s been downs, but we’ve stayed together, remained resilient.
“We’ve been through a lot of changes and we’ve evolved since we came out of the All-Star break. It feels good but we know that the job isn’t finished.”
Irving was backed by another commanding display from Kevin Durant, who finished with 25 points, 11 assists and five rebounds.
Durant was a composed presence throughout, notably helping Brooklyn re-establish a 10-point cushion with back-to-back buckets after Cleveland – who at one stage had trailed by 22 points – cut the Nets’ lead to just six points late in the fourth quarter.
“That’s as advertised,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said of Durant and Irving’s performances. “They’re superstars. That’s what top, top players do.”
Brooklyn led from start to finish, exploding out of the blocks to score 40 points in the first quarter to open up a 20-point lead that Cleveland never managed to recover from.
Nash however was satisfied that Brooklyn had been able to close out the win as Cleveland chipped away at the lead.
“You have to be prepared for that in basketball,” said Nash.
“Anxiety is part of the game, stress is part of the game. You have to embrace that and continue to compete and continue to find clarity and conviction.
“We’ll find lots of positives and also lots of room for improvement … Every day is a day for us to learn about ourselves and how we can improve on both ends of the floor.”
Darius Garland led the Cleveland scoring with 34 points, while Evan Mobley finished with 19 points and Kevin Love 14.
While the Nets look forward to the playoffs, the Cavaliers will face the winner of the other Eastern Conference play-in game between the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks for a place in the first round of the postseason.
Tuesday’s other play-in game sees the Minnesota Timberwolves host the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference.