Kyrie Irving, Nets approaching play-in with mindset of a Game 7

Nets Kyrie Irving
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) takes a three point shot over Indiana Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson (23) in the fourth quarter at Barclays Center.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

While Tuesday’s play-in tournament game will be a new experience for everyone on the Nets roster, Kyrie Irving felt there was only one way to approach it.

“As a competitor, it feels like one of those Game 6s, Game 5s, Game 7s,” Irving said after the Nets secured the seventh seed on Sunday night. “Where it’s a must-win and you know that the ball’s going to be tipped and it’s not really going to depend on anything other than will, skill, how well you’re prepared, physicality, how well you know the other team’s offensive schemes. And really paying attention to the possessions in three-minute spurts, so the other team is gonna go on runs and you just gotta be prepared to withstand it.

“You just don’t know what can happen in games like that —  you could shoot well, you can’t shoot well — you just got to prepare for anything that can happen and really come in with a fearless attitude going against another great team. So I’m looking forward to it.”

The team that Irving was referring to was of course the Nets’ play-in round opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who just visited Barclays Center on Friday. Both teams are sure to make some adjustments for their second meeting in four days, but there likely aren’t going to be too many surprises on either side.

The Nets defeated the Cavs on Friday 118-107 in a game that saw Brooklyn have to recover after letting a 17 point lead slip away. Brooklyn was 3-1 this season against Cleveland.

“Helpful for both teams I would imagine, so I’m not sure what advantage it is,” Nets coach Steve Nash said about playing the Cavaliers in the play-in right after seeing them in the regular season. “It’s the same scenario for both teams. It’s whoever plays better will win.”

Brooklyn ended the season on a high note picking up its fourth straight win and they ended the year with wins in 12 of their last 17 games. Thanks to the push at the end of the year, the Nets will only need one win to advance to the first round of the playoffs and will host play-in games in Brooklyn instead of having to go on the road.

The Nets finished the year with a 20-21  record in Brooklyn, but have gone 7-4 at Barclays Center since March. Should the Nets win and advance on Tuesday they would start the first round as the seven seed and face the Boston Celtics.

“It’s been a lot for our group,” Andre Drummond said about the Nets’ run to the seven seed. “We’ve had a lot of different changes and things happening to us since the trade. We stayed with it. We all have one goal in mind and we saw it through. We finished out the year great.”

Tuesday’s play-in will be a first for Irving, Durant and the Nets as a whole. This week marks the second year that the NBA has included the tournament in its calendar to determine the seventh and eighth seeds in the East and West for the playoffs.

Irving joked that the league must be pretty happy about the play-in rounds so far between this season and last. The NBA has had some of its top stars have to go through the pre-playoff tournament and will see that again this time around.

“I think somebody’s in the backroom hip-hip hooraying whoever created the play-in tournament,” Irving said. “Because last year you get Steph (Curry) and LeBron (James), this year you get me and KD going against the Cavs in the play-in game. And then you have in the Western Conference, Minnesota and the (Los Angeles) Clippers. So I guess somebody’s in the backroom saying this works.”

James was a notable critic of the tournament last year, but Durant didn’t have much to say about it one way or the other. Ultimately, Durant feels as long as the games are good then the play-in will be good for the game.

“The product on the court, it depends on how the games are,” Durant said. “The format of the playoffs and all that stuff don’t really matter. It’s about the product on the court and the players on the floor. I’m sure there’s going to be some good basketball out there with the talent we have in this league.”