The Nets’ regular-season finale Sunday was much like the entire campaign that preceded it: shorthanded and tougher than it had to be.
But at the end, Brooklyn got the job done, a 134-126 victory over Indiana before a crowd sellout of 17,967 at Barclays Center that gave the Nets the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, and finally some play-in clarity.
After closing the schedule winning four straight — and 12 of their last 17 — the Nets climbed from as low as ninth in the East on April 7 to seventh in the final standings. They’ll host the eighth-seeded Cavaliers in Tuesday’s play-in, enjoying the safety net of double-elimination and needing just a lone win to clinch a first-round playoff berth.
“Focus and finish the job,” Steve Nash said of the mission for the finale. “We’ve done very well to put ourselves into this position given all the adversity we’ve faced this year — franchise record in starting lineups and all the things that have gone on.
“To have a chance to dictate this upcoming week is important. It’s something that I think our guys are rewarded for their effort and endurance. Let’s make sure we capitalize on that opportunity.”
The Nets sure looked motivated and incentivized to capitalize.
They got a balanced and complete offensive effort, shooting 64.2 percent, with Kyrie Irving pouring in a game-high 35 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Despite a rare off 5 of 17 shooting night, Kevin Durant orchestrated with his fourth triple-double, finishing with 20 points, a career-high 16 assists and 10 rebounds. Andre Drummond had his way inside with 20 points and 13 boards.
The Nets led by as much as 18. And after squandering that cushion and letting Terry Taylor knot it at 91-all, Brooklyn ran off seven unanswered late in the third.
Irving’s trainer, Devin Harris, tweeted that Milwaukee would duck to avoid the Nets in the playoffs. And the defending champion Bucks — who came into the second day in the East, looming as a potential first-round foe — sat stars Giannis Antetekounmpo, Khris Middleton and (essentially) Jrue Holiday.
They summarily went down 14-0 and lost to Cleveland, leaving their seeding in limbo pending the result of the Celtics and 76ers games.
But the Nets held off the Cavs’ attempt to retake seventh from them. Brooklyn was ahead 8-0 right out of the gate and never trailed.
They led 41-29 after a torrid first quarter that saw them shoot 18 of 24 despite Durant being 0-for-5 with three turnovers. But he had six of their 11 assists, and the ball kept moving the rest of the night, even if their defense was middling.
A Cam Thomas pull-up 3-pointer put Brooklyn ahead 47-29 early in the second quarter, and the Nets still led by 16 at the break.
That momentum didn’t carry over to the third. The Nets watched Indiana open up on a 17-2 run, with a 3-pointer by Oshae Brissett (team-high 28 points) capping the blitz and cutting it to 78-77.
Taylor’s cutting finger roll knotted it at 91-all with 3:44 in the third. But Irving responded with a 3-pointer that sparked a game-clinching 7-0 run.
Durant hit a midrange pull-up off an assist by Nic Claxton (14 points), then returned the favor when he found the springy young center for an alley-oop that pushed the lead to seven and sent Indiana scurrying for a timeout with 1: 51 left in the third.
Brooklyn led by nine going into the fourth and held the Pacers at bay.
Bruce Brown added 21 points and seven boards.