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Irving returns, but new-look Nets beaten by Cavs in 2 OTs

Kyrie Irving returned from his personal “pause” to score 37 points in his first game with Kevin Durant and James Harden but the new-look, star-studded Brooklyn Nets gave up 42 to Collin Sexton and lost 147-135 in double overtime to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.

Sexton scored 15 points in the second OT — most of them over Irving — for the Cavs, who outplayed the Nets all night. Sexton dropped two 3-pointers and fed Taurean Prince for another in a span of 55 seconds as Cleveland put away Brooklyn.

Durant led Brooklyn with 38 points and Harden added 21. But Brooklyn's “Big 3” couldn't do enough to outlast Sexton, who missed Cleveland's last five games with a sprained ankle.

Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving (11) shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers' Isaac Okoro (35) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP PhotoTony Dejak)

As he knocked down one big shot after another in the second OT, players on Cleveland's bench were tackling each other in delight. Cedi Osman added 25 points and Prince — acquired in the four-team deal that brought Harden to Brooklyn — 17 in his Cavs debut.

The Nets overcame a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter and tied it at 113-all on Irving's putback with 1:10 left. Brooklyn had a chance in the closing seconds after Sexton's turnover, but couldn't score.

Brooklyn appeared in control in the first OT, but after Durant's free throws put the Nets up 127-124, Sexton hit a 3-pointer over Irving with 1.2 seconds left. Durant's last chance, a contested 3-pointer at the horn, was short.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Collin Sexton (2) drives past Brooklyn Nets' James Harden (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP PhotoTony Dejak)

The Cavs were breaking in some new pieces too, with Jarrett Allen and Prince making their debuts.

Irving had missed Brooklyn’s last seven games, leaving on Jan. 7 to address some issues he didn't specify while speaking with reporters following practice Tuesday. Irving only said he needed time to work through some issues to find balance in his life.

While he was away, the Nets pulled off the blockbuster deal for Harden, whose arrival has made Brooklyn the favorite to unseat Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference and a legit NBA title threat — maybe.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Jarrett Allen, center, drives between Brooklyn Nets' James Harden, left, and Reggie Perry, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP PhotoTony Dejak)

Before the game, Nets first-year coach Steve Nash admitted being “curious” about how his trio of superstars would align on the floor.

“But I'm not in a hurry,” he said, stressing it may take time for Durant, Irving and Harden to figure things out. “How can we make beautiful basketball together and not worry about the minutiae?”

The Nets are indeed a work in progress.

Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving, right, knocks the ball loose from Cleveland Cavaliers' Cedi Osman, center, as Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot tries to catch it during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP PhotoTony Dejak)

There were moments of sloppiness, miscommunication and even confusion as Brooklyn's players tried to find some cohesion in Harden's third game.

The Cavs weren't intimidated by Brooklyn's firepower or flash.

In the second quarter, Sexton ran back on defense and cleanly flicked the ball away from Durant as he was going in on a breakaway dunk.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Collin Sexton, left, drives past Brooklyn Nets' Bruce Brown during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP PhotoTony Dejak)

Irving's return to the Nets was also just his second game in Cleveland since he was traded by the Cavs after the 2017 season. Strangely, Irving had missed each of his team's previous visits to Ohio since his debut with the Boston Celtics four years ago.

It was Irving's jumper late in Game 7 that helped the Cavs win the 2016 title, and the team saluted him with a video tribute in the first quarter. Many of the 2,000 fans in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse stood and saluted Irving, who touched his chest and waved in appreciation.

TIP-INS

Nets: Harden added 12 assists and 0 rebounds. ... A prolific scorer and volume shooter, Harden didn't attempt a shot in the first quarter. ... Brooklyn made its first 10 shots.

Cavaliers: G Darius Garland remains sidelined with a sprained right shoulder. He could be back Friday. ... Coach J.B. Bickerstaff watched President Joe Biden's inauguration, and came away inspired by the ceremony. “To see the will of the people to come through adversity gives me confidence and hope,” he said. ... G/F Dylan Windler will return Friday after being sidelined since opening night, when he broke his left hand.

UP NEXT

The Nets are hanging around Cleveland for a couple days. They'll play the Cavs again on Friday night.

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