The schedule finally did the Nets a favor. They had a day off in Cleveland on Thursday after their 147-135 double-overtime loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday night, which gave them a chance to rest and recover for Friday night’s rematch.
No one needed the down time more than the Nets’ "Big 3." In their first game together, Kevin Durant and James Harden each played more than 50 minutes and Kyrie Irving clocked more than 48 minutes in his first game back from a seven-game absence.
That trio totaled 96 points (38 by Durant, 37 by Irving and 21 from Harden, who completed a triple-double with 10 rebounds and 12 assists), and they scored 34 of the Nets’ final 49 points. Yet they got upstaged by the 42-point effort of Collin Sexton, who scored 20 straight points for the Cavs, including their first 15 in the second OT.
"I don’t know many teams that could put up 20 points in five minutes, but Collin got hot," Irving said. "I give the young fellow credit, and I give that whole Cleveland team credit tonight. They came to play."
The Nets overcame a 14-point deficit near the end of the third quarter and sent the game to overtime on Irving’s tip-in near the end of regulation. They were up by three in the first overtime, but Sexton hit a tying three with 1.2 seconds left to push it to the second overtime. Then he simply took over.
Describing his first outing together with Harden and Irving, Durant said, "It felt right. It felt like we belonged together. It felt like this journey together is going to be fun. It was a tough first start. It was an up-and-down game for us, but I like where we are.
"We’d obviously love to win the game. That’s the most important thing. Definitely disappointed about that. But we got a long season ahead of us, just keep plugging away. I like the camaraderie that we have and we’re building. The communication from the coaching staff to the players is at a high level, so looking forward to keep grinding. We got the same team next game."
Like his teammates, Harden tipped his hat to the overtime theatrics by Sexton. At the same time, the minutes he played were a career high, so that was a good indication of how much his condition is improving after a slow start while he was with the Rockets.
"We’re still early in this process," Harden said. "It’s early for all of us. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re still excited about everything that’s going on.
"Obviously, it would have been great for us to win and still figure things out. But a loss is still great, especially because it’s how you bounce back from the loss. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think we’re in the right direction."
If there was one cautionary note, it was that the Nets’ bench, usually a strength, was outscored 44-10 by the Cavaliers’ reserves That included 17 points from Taurean Prince and 12 points plus 11 rebounds from Jarrett Allen, two former Nets who went to the Cavs as part of the four-team trade for Harden.
Asked if he leaned too heavily on his stars, coach Steve Nash said, "When you’re trying to climb out of a hole, it’s hard to really go to the bench. We got ourselves back in the game, we had a chance to win, and we didn’t do it. So no, it looks like we made the wrong decisions. But if they don’t make that three at the end of the first overtime, it looks like it was worthwhile. Sometimes you roll the dice."