BROOKLYN — The Cleveland Cavaliers lost 115-108 on the road to the Brooklyn Nets, who, with their win, now advance to the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as the seven seed and play Boston. The Cavs will play the winner of the Atlanta-Charlotte game for a chance to earn the eight seed, which will face top-seeded Miami.
Cleveland had a rough first quarter, allowing the Nets to score 40 points. But Darius Garland helped guide the Cavs back into the game by scoring 32 points.
Both the Cavs and Nets finished the season 44-38, with the Nets taking seventh place by going 3-1 against the Cavaliers. They wrapped up the tiebreaker Friday by beating Cleveland 118-107, though that did nothing to make the Cavs think they couldn’t go to Brooklyn and win Tuesday night.
Brooklyn was expected to be at the top of the Eastern Conference, not a team still trying to play its way into the postseason. But Kyrie Irving couldn’t play home games until late last month because he isn’t vaccinated against the coronavirus. Kevin Durant missed 21 games with a sprained left knee. James Harden was traded for Ben Simmons, who hasn’t played because of back problems.
The play-in game against the Nets on Tuesday marked a new era for the Cavaliers, who appeared in a postseason game without LeBron James for the first time since 1998. The Cavs’ rebuild went from stagnant to supersonic in one season. Cleveland wasn’t expected to contend in 2022, let alone double its win total and be among the East’s top teams despite an extraordinary rash of injuries.
Now it all comes down to an elimination game on Friday against the winner of Atlanta-Charlotte, who play on Wednesday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.