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Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant too much for Cleveland Cavaliers, as Brooklyn Nets win 125-117

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Kyrie Irving silenced the crowd.

With his All-Star teammate Kevin Durant on the bench because of six fouls, Irving helped stymie the Cleveland Cavaliers’ valiant fourth-quarter comeback attempt, leading the Nets to a 125-117 win over his old team. Brooklyn has won nine games in a row — and is just the second Eastern Conference opponent to win at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse this season. The Cavs have lost two straight on the heels of a previous five-game win streak.

“I believe we can play with these teams,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said after the loss. “I think we did enough to give me confidence in that. I think we just waited too long to believe we could. You allow a team to get out to a lead like we did and it’s going to be difficult to come back and you have to be almost perfect. No matter the opponent, we’re capable of winning and we are capable of beating them. Those are the things that you have to go through. Look at that team and it’s veterans up and down. They’ve been through it, seen these exact same things happen to them and they learned. That’s what we will do.”

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Monday night’s showdown had plenty of buzz. The game was featured on NBA TV. It was the day after Christmas. An opportunity for Cleveland to wipe away the bad vibes from the Toronto loss a few days earlier. A chance to reaffirm its standing among the league’s elite with the latest renowned title contender in town. A visit from a former friend who became an enemy after demanding a trade four years ago — a decision that effectively ended the organization’s reign.

The crowd was amped. They were ready to give it to Irving — the ex-Cavalier great who made his NBA debut 11 years ago to this day and played a starring role in the franchise’s lone NBA title in 2016.

During pregame intros, a smattering of cheers was mostly drowned out by booming boos — and those carried over into the first possession.

Irving got the final word.

He repeatedly hit clutch shots at critical moments — just like his Cleveland days. Irving finished with 32 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, on 11 of 19 shooting and 7 of 11 from 3-point range.

After one of his ruthless triples early in the fourth quarter, just barely in front of the Cavaliers’ midcourt logo, Irving posed and celebrated while Durant signaled for Cleveland to call timeout. That long-range jumper gave the Nets a game-high 19-point lead.

But the Cavs started surging back. It became a point guard duel.

Cleveland All-Star Darius Garland, Irving’s successor who had a spectacular night and almost single-handedly lifted the team to an improbable comeback, made a basket to pull Cleveland within seven around the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

The crowd rustled. Chants of “de-fense” echoed throughout the arena as Irving got the ball from Durant and went around a screen.

Irving made a move toward the basket before stepping back to create a sliver of space and buried a top-of-the-key pull-up jumper.

A little more than a minute later, the Cavs were within seven again. Irving called for the ball. In the left corner, he faced up against Garland. The shot clock started ticking down. Irving jab-stepped. He faked a drive to the right. Then he rose up and delivered the silencer — a cold-blooded 3-pointer that extended the Nets’ lead back to 10.

“Seen that before,” said Kevin Love, the lone player remaining on the current roster from that championship squad.

Even though the Cavs manufactured one more run, cutting the lead to four with 44 seconds left following another Garland bucket, Irving drained a pair of clutch free throws.

The Cavs didn’t get any closer. In all, they trailed for the final 43 minutes.

Earlier in the game, Irving helped Brooklyn finish the second quarter on a 21-6 surge in less than four minutes. He scored 12 points during that vintage stretch, giving the Nets firm control — and a 16-point edge — going into the half.

Durant matched Irving with 32 points before fouling out with 1:54 left. Durant moved past Tim Duncan (26,496) into 15th place on the career scoring list when he dropped a 20-foot jumper in the second quarter. Next up for Durant is Dominique Wilkins (26,668).

Brooklyn offseason addition T.J. Warren chipped in with 23 off the bench.

Bickerstaff spoke about wanting to make the game dirty and ugly. It was Cleveland’s best chance against the starry Nets. Ugly is right. For everyone but Garland.

The youngster poured in a game-high 46 points, trying to dig the team out of multiple double-digit holes. It’s Garland’s fourth career 40-point game — and third one this season.

“That’s Darius Garland,” Donovan Mitchell said of his backcourt mate. “I mean, that’s the Darius we all know. He’s shown on multiple nights he’s capable of having nights like this. I think he took that challenge of defending Kyrie and then also going out there and leading us. A lot of respect for Darius and that’s the player he is. That’s the player who is one of the leaders of this team.”

Hounded by menacing defensive stud Ben Simmons throughout, Mitchell had his second straight lackluster showing. He finished with 15 points on 5 of 16 from the floor, including 3 of 9 from beyond the arc.

“Credit to them, they pretty much, every time I gave the ball up, kind of face guarded me,” Mitchell said when asked about his struggles. “That’s kind of been the case the past two games. Now, granted, I haven’t played to my capabilities and that’s on me. I let the team down in that way. But, for me, I haven’t seen that all season, so being able to adjust, watch the film and get better.”

Second-year forward Evan Mobley chipped added 12 points. Cedi Osman (11) and Jarrett Allen (10) also reached double figures.

Irving was back in the building where he became a franchise legend Monday night. When he touched down in Cleveland, the memories rushed back. They always do.

Now he’s got another fond one to take with him.

Still waiting

Injured point guard Ricky Rubio, who continues to work his way back following January ACL surgery, will not play before the end of this year, Bickerstaff said prior to Monday’s game. Rubio has been sidelined for nearly a year and the internal target has consistently been some point in January. While he continues to make steady progress, conducting individual workouts, Cleveland’s limited practice days are making it tough for Rubio to get the 5-on-5 work he needs to clear the final hurdle.

Up next

The Cavs will hit the road for two games. The first comes against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

If you or a loved one has questions and needs to talk to a professional about gambling, call the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-589-9966 or the National Council on Program Gambling Helpline (NCPG) at 1-800-522-4700.

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