Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant combined for 55 points as the Brooklyn Nets held off a rally from the Indiana Pacers on Sunday to seal seventh place in the Eastern Conference and clinch home advantage for next week’s play-in.
The Nets’ final regular season game looked set to be a blowout for long periods as Brooklyn jumped out to an 18-point lead in the first half.
But a dogged Pacers unit drew level at 89-89 with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter before Brooklyn regrouped to pull clear and run out 134-126 winners.
The win means Brooklyn will face a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday where a victory will see them enter directly into the playoffs as seventh seeds.
The Nets will head into that showdown buoyed by the recent form of Irving and Durant.
Irving finished with 35 points, seven rebounds and five assists on Sunday, going 15-of-20 from the field.
Durant, meanwhile, completed a triple double of 20 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 16 assists while Brooklyn had six players finish in double figures.
“It’s been an up and down last few weeks for us — winning some games, losing some games,” Durant said afterwards.
“I think we’re finding out who we are as a group and that’s always a good thing.”
Durant is now looking forward eagerly to the business end of the season, starting with Tuesday’s assignment against Cleveland.
“It’s been a long year and this is the perfect time of the year to play our best basketball,” Durant said.
A Brooklyn victory over Cleveland on Tuesday would see the Nets face the second-seeded Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Tatum ‘proud’ of Celtics
That crunch showdown — which would pit Irving against his former club — was made possible after the Celtics vaulted over the Milwaukee Bucks into second place in the standings.
The Celtics clinched the second seed after a 139-110 blowout of the Memphis Grizzlies in their final game on Sunday.
Celtics star Jayson Tatum led the rout with 31 points — making 11-of-14 from the field — in just 26 minutes on court. Jaylen Brown added 18 points with Al Al Horford scoring 13.
The Grizzlies, who had already clinched second place in the Western Conference, rested several of their first choice starting line-up.
The Celtics rise to the second seeding is all the more remarkable given their indifferent early season form.
As recently as February, Boston were languishing in ninth place in the East, well outside the automatic playoff places.
“It was a tough one, I’m proud of my group and proud of how we responded throughout the season,” Tatum said afterwards.
“It didn’t start off well but we managed to figure it out and we’ve been on a roll and hopefully we’ll keep it going through the playoffs.”
Milwaukee meanwhile dropped to third in the Eastern Conference standings after their under-strength lineup was thumped 133-115 by the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Sunday.
The Bucks were without key players Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis for the game which was notable for a bizarre fleeting cameo by another mainstay Jrue Holiday.
Holiday came onto the court for the tipoff and promptly committed a foul after eight seconds before leaving the court without returning.
Reports said the brief appearance allowed him to collect a $255,000 bonus included in his contract for featuring in 67 games this season.