Brooklyn Nets: Win at Cleveland a microcosm of turnaround 1st half

Brooklyn Nets DeMarre Carroll (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets DeMarre Carroll (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets battled past the final buzzer Wednesday for a 148-139 triple-overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers that captured the team’s rise.

It’s been said before of some of the games the Brooklyn Nets have won over the last two months and change, since ending an eight-game losing streak in early December — last season, early this season the Nets don’t win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.

The Nets trailed by as much as 12 and needed three overtimes — including a DeMarre Carroll buzzer-beater at the end of overtime No. 2 — before finally putting away the Cavaliers for a 148-139 victory at Quicken Loans Arena.

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Early this season, there were two things that were essentially true about the Nets — a carryover from the 2017-18 season when Brooklyn was 5-7 in games decided by three points or fewer and had a penchant for not being able to hold onto leads in crunch time.

Through Dec. 5 — the night of Brooklyn’s epic 23-point collapse against the Oklahoma City Thunder that capped the eight-game skid — the Nets had played 16 games in which they led by at least 10 points … and lost eight of those.

Also to that point in their schedule, Brooklyn had played 13 games in which they had trailed by at least 10 points. Their record in those games was 1-12.

The loss to the Thunder left the Nets at 8-18 and a reputation for not being able to come back once an opponent got them into a hole and a penchant for coughing up leads.

In their next game on Dec. 7, the Nets again had a double-digit lead against the Toronto Raptors, who came back to tie it late in regulation. But Brooklyn flipped the script, defending Toronto star Kawhi Leonard so well on the game’s last possession that Leonard had to give the ball up.

Fred VanVleet missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer and Brooklyn had broken the streak … and the spell … all in one fell swoop.

Starting with the win over Toronto, the Nets have had at least a 10-point lead in 18 games.

They are 18-0 in those games. The not-being-able-to-play-with-a-lead thing? That is sooooo last November.

Also in that span, Brooklyn has trailed by at least 10 points in 15 games. The Nets are 6-9 in those games, including the comeback Wednesday from 12 points down to beat the Cavaliers.

Only the Denver Nuggets have more wins in games decided by three points or fewer this season — 10 in 12 decisions — than the Nets, who are 9-7 in those close calls. The Raptors are 9-4, the only other NBA team with at least nine wins in close games.

No team in the league has played as many games decided by three or less than Brooklyn’s 16. The next closest are Toronto and the Philadelphia 76ers with 13 each. The 76ers, incidentally, are 8-5 in those games.

Brooklyn is also tied with the Detroit Pistons for the most overtime games played this season with six and their five overtime wins are the most in the NBA.

There are six teams unbeaten in OT games this season — the Boston Celtics are 4-0, the San Antonio Spurs are 3-0 and Denver is 2-0, with three others winning in their only overtime effort.

In 63 minutes against the Cavaliers on Wednesday, the Nets led the game for 14:21, a little more than a third of Cleveland’s 38:42 spent in the lead.

Interestingly enough, for a team lacking in star power, it was Brooklyn’s first All-Star selection in five years, D’Angelo Russell, that powered the win at the end, scoring 14 of the Nets’ 20 points in the third overtime to finally allow the club to shake off the pesky Cavaliers.

That was two points shy of the NBA regular-season record for points in an overtime period set by Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards, who scored 16 points in overtime of a win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 17, 2006.

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors scored 17 points in one overtime period in a playoff win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The win also enabled Brooklyn to hit the All-Star break with a 30-29 record — the first time the Nets entered the break with a winning record since the first season in Brooklyn in 2012-13.

It was a first half in which the Brooklyn Nets learned the lessons from difficult defeats to close out games they would have once lost, such as the one in Cleveland.

Since that epic come-from-ahead loss to Oklahoma City on Dec. 5, the Nets have played at a 22-11 clip — tied for the fifth-best record in the NBA over that span — and have moved into sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Brooklyn enters the break with a two-game lead over the seventh-place Charlotte Hornets and a 2½-game edge over the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat — currently tied for eighth.

The Orlando Magic lurk a half-game behind Detroit and Miami and the Washington Wizards are three behind the Pistons and Heat.

The Nets face a daunting second-half schedule with 16 of 23 games against teams currently holding a playoff spot. Basketball-Reference gives the Nets an 83.2 percent probability of reaching the postseason, projecting Brooklyn to finish sixth with a 40-42 record.

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But given the Nets’ newfound tendency to win games they shouldn’t, the might just surprise the experts once again by exceeding that 10-13 projection for the rest of the way.