CLEVELAND — Darius Garland strengthened his All-Star case with 22 points and 12 assists, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 114-107 win Monday over the Brooklyn Nets, who began a stretch without injured superstar Kevin Durant.
Kyrie Irving scored 27 points in his fourth game of the season and James Harden added 22 for Brooklyn, which was playing its first game since Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer, sprained his left knee. He’s expected to be out several weeks.
The Nets missed five straight shots down the stretch but were still within 110-107 when a costly turnover by Harden led to a breakaway dunk for Okoro.
Harden attempted a pass back to Irving, who slipped near mid-court and laid helplessly on the floor as Okoro streaked by and scored.
Irving missed a three-pointer that went halfway down and came out before Cleveland’s Kevin Love made three free throws to close out one of the Cavs’ biggest wins this season.
Durant, averaging 29.3 points per game, sprained his left medial collateral ligament (MCL) on Saturday in a win over New Orleans. The Nets don’t have a definitive timeframe for his return, but it’s safe to assume they’ll be without one of the game’s best players for several weeks.
Before the game, Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said Durant will be re-evaluated in “a few weeks,” at which point the team will have a better sense of when he’ll be back.
In the meantime, the Nets, who were hoping to finally have a long stretch with Durant, Harden and Irving on the floor together, are again being forced to cope, adjust and figure out how to win.
“It’s an opportunity for our team to grow,” Nash said. “We have to find solutions.”
The Nets got another scare in the third quarter when Harden grabbed his left leg and hobbled off.
He stayed in for another minute before being replaced by Irving, who then scored seven straight points, dropping a three-pointer with 11.7 seconds left to put Brooklyn up 88-87 heading into the fourth.
Garland, who was named the Eastern Conference’s player of the week during the game, was in the middle of the game’s splashiest play in the first half.
After making an overhead catch on a long outlet pass from Love like a football wide receiver, Garland flipped the ball back to a trailing Okoro for a thundering dunk.
Nets: It’s hard to find a positive with Durant’s situation, but one plus is that Brooklyn plays nine of its next 11 on the road and will have Irving, who can’t play at home because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19 as mandated in New York’s public venues. … F/C Nick Claxton (hamstring) missed his fourth straight game. … A two-time league MVP as a point guard, Nash has been impressed with Garland’s development. “He kind of has all the tools you want, coupled with speed and quickness.”
Cavaliers: With the All-Star Game in Cleveland next month, the Cavs are pushing hard for Garland to make the team along with Allen, who has been one of the East’s most dominant big men. “They both deserve it,” said coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who hasn’t started calling colleagues to push for their votes. … G Lamar Stevens (sore knee) sat out. … G Rajon Rondo (hamstring) missed his fourth game in a row. … Chairman Dan Gilbert attended his second game this season.
Nets: Visit Washington on Wednesday. They beat the Wizards 104-90 on Oct. 25.
Cavaliers: Play at Eastern Conference-leading Chicago on Wednesday.