Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant lead Nets into NBA playoffs

After an entire regular season of hand-wringing about whether the Nets could flip the switch when they needed, apparently the answer was yes. Tuesday’s resounding, wire-to-wire play-in rout of Cleveland proved it.

Now they’ll have to do it against a contender.

The 115-108 win earned Brooklyn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs proper, and a first-round date against the second-seeded Celtics.

The stars — Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant — led the way and made their teammates better before a raucous crowd at Barclays Center, including the former minority owner and Brooklyn icon Jay-Z seated courtside, that chanted, “We want Boston! We want Boston!”

“We want to win, period,” coach Steve Nash had said beforehand. “So whatever it takes to get this game result that we need.”

Irving poured in a game-high 34 points with 12 assists on uber-efficient 12-for-15 shooting, hitting his first dozen before missing with 10:09 to play.

Kyrie Irving (center) celebrates with Kevin Durant and Andre Drummond (right) during the Nets’ 115-108 win over the Cavaliers.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Durant continued to play the facilitator, as he’s done with defenses geared to stopping him. He had 25 points, 11 assists and five rebounds. Together they didn’t miss in the first quarter, leading a Nets attack that shot 70.8 percent and diced Cleveland up for a 40-20 lead.

Irving’s 17-foot pull-up under heavy duress beat the halftime buzzer and sent Brooklyn into the locker room up by 57-43. The Nets padded the cushion to 22 in the third quarter before a fourth-quarter rally by Cleveland fell short.

“It feels like a playoff game,” Durant said before the game. “Each game is just as important. Game 1 through 7 are important. So it’s like a playoff game, and I know our fans are going to approach it as such and they are, our opponents are as well.

“So it’s just a matter of just lacing your sneakers up and just hooping, seeing what happens out there.”

Kyrie Irving, who scored 34 points, shoots over Kevin Love during the Nets' win.
Kyrie Irving, who scored 34 points, shoots over Kevin Love during the Nets’ win.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Darius Garland led Cleveland with 34 points, but the Nets’ much-maligned defense smothered the Cavs in building a big early lead.

With former Net center Jarrett Allen injured (finger) and not there to protect the Cavaliers’ rim, coach JB Bickerstaff tossed out an early 3-2 zone after seeing it flummox the Nets in earlier games. But not this one.

Bruce Brown (18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) gave Brooklyn a quick boost in his rolling, er, role. And Durant did it on both ends, blocking Lauri Markkanen at the rim to send the Cavs big sprawling to the Barclays Center court. Durant ran the floor, took a pass from Brown and drove, sucking in the defense and dishing to Andre Drummond for a dunk.

That made it 17-9, and moments later Durant threw a perfect no-look bounce pass to Irving on the fast break. It put the Nets up 23-14 with 3:52 in the first quarter.

Kevin Durant blocks Lauri Markkanen's shot during the Nets' play-in win over the Cavaliers.
Kevin Durant blocks Lauri Markkanen’s shot during the Nets’ play-in win over the Cavaliers.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

A rare jumper from center Nic Claxton (13 points, nine boards and five blocks) doubled up Cleveland 40-20 after a first quarter that saw the Nets shoot 17 of 24, including 8 of 8 from Durant and Irving.

The Cavs opened the second quarter on a 9-2 run with Durant resting.

But Irving beat the halftime buzzer to make it 57-43 at intermission, and later found Drummond for a cutting layup that padded the cushion to 69-47.

The clock read 8:19 in the third, but the game was more or less over.

Brooklyn let it get to 88-82 on a Garland floater with 8:43 left, but no closer. Durant answered with a corner 3 to end the run, and Brown’s layup made it double figures.

When it got back to six at 99-93, Durant responded with back-to-back buckets to end the threat. And the Cavs.

Now Boston beckons, with Game 1 on Sunday at TD Garden.

Brooklyn dominated the Celtics in a five-game gentleman’s sweep during last year’s first-round. But this time around the Nets find Boston white-hot.

The Nets dropped three of their four meetings this season. While Durant and Irving missed two of those losses, both were in the lineup for the March 6 defeat that saw them surrender 54 points to Jayson Tatum.


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