NEW YORK (AP) — Donovan Mitchell had five 3-pointers and one sensational slam dunk among his 31 points, and the Cleveland Cavaliers opened a big lead in the third quarter and held on for a 115-109 victory over Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
Caris LeVert added 18 points for the Cavaliers in the opener of a two-game series. Cleveland led by only six after a competitive first half, but quickly blew it open in the third en route to its seventh win in nine games.
The Cavs opened a 24-point lead and Mitchell’s slam over Yuta Watanabe came with the Nets desperately hoping to get back into it early in the fourth.
Darius Garland and Evan Mobley each added 17 points, and Jarrett Allen returned from a four-game absence with a right eye injury with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Day’Ron Sharpe had 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for the Nets, who lost their fourth straight game. Spencer Dinwiddie had 19 points and 11 assists, and Mikal Bridges scored 18 points.
The teams play again Thursday night to complete what could be a postseason preview. The Cavaliers are solidly in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, nearing their first playoff berth since 2018 in LeBron James’ final season in Cleveland, and their first without him on the roster since 1998.
The Nets came in just two games behind the New York Knicks for fifth, but now are only a half-game ahead of Miami for seventh, which would mean having to get through the play-in round.
Mitchell and Garland converted consecutive three-point plays to give Cleveland eight straight points to start the second half and a 69-55 lead. Mitchell later opened and closed an 11-0 burst with 3-pointers, pushing the lead to 84-60 midway through the third.
The Nets got themselves back into it with a 14-3 push late in third to cut it to 91-78, but the Cavs pushed the ball up the court in the closing seconds and LeVert beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer to make it 94-78.
Watanabe’s turnover early in the fourth sent the Cavs on a fast break, and Mitchell punctuated the sequence by pulling the ball back high over his right shoulder and slamming it down over Watanabe, who had rushed back to defend.
Mitchell took a few looks up at the overhead scoreboard, perhaps in hopes of seeing his highlight, but it was not shown.
The Nets got it down to five in the final minute, but had too far to climb against a team that came in allowing the fewest points per game in the NBA.
Cavaliers: Garland made one 3-pointer to break a tie with Danny Ferry (543) for ninth place on the Cavaliers’ career list. … Cedi Osman was 4 for 4 behind the arc for 12 points.
Nets: Cam Johnson scored 16 points and Nic Claxton had 13. … The Cavaliers were the last Eastern Conference team to play in Brooklyn this season.
There was a moment of silence before the game for Hall of Famer Willis Reed, who died Tuesday at 80. After winning two championships as a player with the New York Knicks, Reed both coached and was an executive for the Nets in New Jersey, drafting Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson to build a playoff team in the 1990s.
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn had high praise for a couple Cavs who played for him in Brooklyn, calling Allen “one of the smartest bigs I’ve ever been around” and saying LeVert has “another level to his game and when playoffs comes around, he’ll take it to another level.”