CLEVELAND — The Nets had Kyrie Irving, but without injured Kevin Durant they simply are a much different, less powerful team. Irving did his best to fill the void with 27 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Cavaliers scored a 114-107 victory in a Martin Luther King Day matinee Monday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
The Nets gained a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Cavs responded with eight straight points, including six by Darius Garland, to take a 101-97 lead with 5:12 to play. But James Harden drew fouls on two three-pointers and made six foul shots in an 8-4 surge to tie the game at 105 with 3:43 to go.
Bu the Cavs ended the game on a 9-2 run as the Nets made just one of their final seven shots and committed a turnover. "At the end, we had easy opportunities to convert, and we didn’t convert," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "But for me, giving up 65 points in the first half, we had a lot of defensive errors we weren’t happy with. That’s the game."
Irving took control for the Nets (27-16) on 12-for-23 shooting plus nine assists, Harden added 22 points and 10 assists, LaMarcus Aldridge had 13 and Patty Mills and Kessler Edwards each added 11. Garland topped the Cavaliers (27-18) with 22 points and 12 assists, Isaac Okoro had 15, former Net Jarrett Allen had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Lauri Markkanen and Kevin Love each had 14 points.
The Nets were without Durant, who suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee during their win over the Pelicans Saturday in Brooklyn. The Cavaliers built a 65-59 halftime advantage, but the Nets ended the third period with a 13-2 surge that ended with seven straight points from Irving to take an 88-87 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Harden acknowledged the Nets’ fourth-quarter shooting problems, but said the game was lost earlier. "I don't think it's about down the stretch," Harden said. "As a unit, giving up 65 points in that first half was just way too much. Second half we were a lot better, but we just got to be better first half of the game, and I think it's a different outcome."
The saving grace for the Nets without Durant is that they were beginning a stretch in which they play nine of 11 games on the road. That meant they would have Irving for those nine road games since he is not eligible to play in New York or Toronto so long as he remains unvaccinated.
Asked how difficult it will be for the Nets to play without Durant, Irving said, "For me personally, it was a big hit. You feel it energetically, the presence in the locker room. Everyone is going to feel it, but for me personally, it’s like we just got back into the swing of things and here we are again. One of our guys is out for a long period of time. We’ve just got to face the reality, man, and move forward."
Notes & quotes: Before the game, Nash said Durant will be out for "weeks," not days. Harden, Durant and Irving played only two games together this season and 16 total since the Nets acquired Harden a year ago. Durant is likely to be out at least through the All-Star break, which begins Feb. 18. The Nets play 23 games after the break, but Irving only is eligible to play eight of them because he can’t play in New York or Toronto. Asked how the Big 3 are supposed to develop any cohesion before the playoffs, Nash said, "We just have to do the best we can. We can’t cry about it."