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Brooklyn Nets secure No. 2 seed as Kyrie Irving joins 50/40/90 club

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NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with pizzazz on Sunday night, completing one of the most impressive plays of the team’s season during their 123-109 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the final seconds of the first half, Blake Griffin intercepted Cedi Osman‘s off-kilter attempt to save the ball from bouncing out of bounds. Griffin fed the ball upcourt to Kyrie Irving with a spinning, behind-the-back, right-handed pass. Irving then hurled the ball to Mike James, who was just inside the 3-point line.

James laid the ball up off the backboard for Kevin Durant to slam it down in a Harlem Globetrotters-like finish that brought the limited-capacity crowd in Barclays Center to its feet, cleared the Nets’ bench in excitement and even earned a smile from referee Marat Kogut.

“It felt like it was laid on a platter for us,” Durant said. “It happened so fast; I don’t think we forced anything. And those are usually the best plays, when it just organically happens. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

James was relieved that Durant completed the play.

“I was a little nervous,” James said, smiling. “If it would have been bad, I think my Nets career would have been over.”

Afterward, Griffin joked that he was the maestro of the whole undertaking.

“Listen, I don’t like to pat myself on the back,” Griffin said, grinning. “But I did get that thing started. I was yelling at everybody to take off. I passed it to Kyrie, and then I was yelling at Kyrie to pass it to Mike, and I told Mike to throw it off the backboard. Kevin just dunked it. I didn’t tell him anything. I don’t want to take credit for it. Those guys did it. I was just kind of orchestrating from behind.”

Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said that from his vantage point on the sidelines, he was left wondering: “‘We think we cute now?'”

The Nets went on to beat Cleveland in their final game of the season on Sunday. They pulled out the win without James Harden, who sat out to rest his hamstring on the second night of back-to-back games. The victory means the Milwaukee Bucks will have the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and face off against the Miami Heat in the first round, while the Nets will face the winner of the Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards play-in matchup.

Sunday’s contest marked the third time that Durant has played in both games of a back-to-back this season. He finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists. Irving had 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. James added 14 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists off the bench.

Irving shot 8-of-10 from the field on Sunday and 1-of-2 from 3-point range, and he was a perfect 6-of-6 at the free throw line. His performance solidified Irving’s place in the “50/40/90” club — reserved for players who shoot 50% or greater from the field, 40% or better from 3-point range and at least 90% on free throws.

Irving shot 50.6% from the field this season, 40.2% on 3s and 90.2% from the free throw line. He joins Larry Bird, Stephen Curry and Durant as the only players to average at least 25 points per game during a 50-40-90 season

“Phenomenal season from Ky,” Durant said. “He’s a guy who can get it from anywhere on the floor at any time at that size is remarkable. Point guards that get 50/40/90 is just so much more impressive to me. I’m very happy for Kyrie, and I’m sure this won’t be his last time.”

Irving did not speak to reporters after the game.

The Nets also were without Joe Harris, who was diagnosed with a left gluteal strain. After the game, Nash said that while he expected Harden to be available to practice with the team on Tuesday, Harris might miss a few practices this week.

“There’s a case where he may not practice the whole week, but that’s OK,” Nash said of Harris. “He’s played a lot of minutes this year, and we want him to heal up as best he possibly can and kind of not have to chase this thing through the playoffs and have it linger. I’d rather he resolves it than practice this week.”

With Harden unavailable on Sunday, the Nets finished the regular season with their Big Three playing just eight games together. No team’s three leading scorers have played fewer than 10 games together and gone on to win a championship.

The 2000-01 Lakers’ leading scorers of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal played just 10 games together, and they won the title, but they also had played together in prior seasons. Durant said that he isn’t concerned about the lack of time he has had with Harden and Irving to build chemistry.

“I think we’re the ‘Big 15,'” Durant said of his team. “So, yeah, we’ll be all right.”

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Andre Drummond sees Philadelphia 76ers as ‘great fit’ despite previous drama with Joel Embiid

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In the wake of Andre Drummond’s surprising decision to join the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency and become a backup to longtime rival Joel Embiid, the 27-year-old two-time All-Star said that “things change,” but he’d accepted the opportunity placed before him.

“In life, things change, and it’s nothing that is affecting me at all, or making me feel any type of way,” Drummond said in a video conference call in the wake of his signing becoming official Thursday. “That’s the role that’s been given to me. It’s something that I’ve accepted and I’m willing to do.

“If it’s in the best interest of the team to win, it has to get done.”

Drummond, who has led the NBA in rebounding four times and has made two All-Star teams and an All-NBA team in his career, was arguably the biggest name on the buyout market when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers last season. But the fit alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis proved cumbersome, and Drummond was eventually left on the bench as a healthy scratch for what turned out to be the final game of the Lakers’ season, Game 6 of their Western Conference first-round series with the Phoenix Suns.

When asked why he didn’t re-sign with the Lakers, after they had indicated during the season they would want to bring him back beyond last season, Drummond said the moves the Lakers had made removed that as a possibility.

“You know, times are changing, and they made different trades and changes to their team to where it didn’t make sense for me to go back there, so I took the next-best thing after that, which was to come to Philly,” Drummond said. “I think it’s a great fit for me.”

It certainly was a surprising fit — both because of Drummond’s résumé, having started all but one game he’s played in since his rookie year with the Detroit Pistons, and because of his long-standing back-and-forths with Embiid, who has trolled him incessantly. Embiid has several rivalries with big men around the league.

But Drummond said he didn’t take any of that personally, and that it wasn’t anything he had to put behind him in deciding to join Philadelphia this offseason.

“I think for me there was never any real beef,” Drummond said. “At the end of the day, it’s the game of basketball. It’s a heated game. We’re both competitive. The way we play is we, sometimes we talk. I don’t think it goes any further than that.

“I don’t think there’s any real beef, or malice towards each other. It’s part of the game. We’re on the same team now. It’s not something I’m thinking about or anything that’s really bothering me.”

Drummond also said the decision to play for the Sixers was heavily influenced by the presence of Doc Rivers, whom he’s known since he was in high school.

“I think for me, making the decision to come to Philly was based off Doc really having the faith in me to really help this team do something special. Whatever my role is, me coming off the bench in the prime of my career, it doesn’t really matter. I can still be effective coming off the bench and backing up Joel.

“I think it was a no-brainer. I’ve always wanted to play for Doc. When I got the chance to play for him, I took the chance.”

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France survives Luka Doncic triple-double, to face Team USA for gold medal

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SAITAMA, Japan — Game on the line, chance for gold on the line, and Slovenia’s Klemen Prepelic thought he had a layup that would have given Slovenia the win.

France’s Nicolas Batum thought differently.

Batum reached over Prepelic to block the layup try with 2.4 seconds left, the final play in France’s 90-89 win over Slovenia in a men’s basketball semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday night — overcoming a historic night from Luka Doncic.

Doncic had the third triple-double in Olympic men’s history: 16 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists. But it wasn’t quite enough, and Slovenia fell to 17-1 all-time when Doncic is in the national team colors.

He may be good as gold one day, but not yet. France will play the United States on Saturday (11:30 a.m. local time in Japan, 10:30 p.m. ET Friday) to decide the gold medal at the Tokyo Games. France has been this far at an Olympics only once, losing to the Americans in the title game at the 2000 Sydney Games.

France has won the past two meetings with the U.S., first in the quarterfinals at the Basketball World Cup in 2019, then to open group play in Tokyo.

Nando de Colo had 25 points for France, Evan Fournier scored 23, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added 15 for the winners — now the last unbeaten team left in the men’s tournament at 5-0. Rudy Gobert had nine points, 16 rebounds and four blocks for France, and Batum blocked four shots, none bigger than the one at the end.

Mike Tobey scored 23 for Slovenia, which got 17 from Prepelic.

France trailed by eight in the first half then went up by 10 late in the third before needing to survive a wild fourth quarter. Slovenia tied the game twice in the final period, both times on baskets inside by Tobey, but never took the lead.

Luwawu-Cabarrot took a kickout pass from Gobert with 56.1 seconds left and made a wide-open 3-pointer to put France up 90-85. A free throw got Slovenia within four, then Fournier fouled out on an offensive foul while dribbling upcourt on the next France possession.

Slovenia had life.

Prepelic took a pass from Doncic on the ensuing possession and hit a 3-pointer to get Slovenia within one. Then it came down to the last shot, which Batum knocked away as Slovenia argued for a foul to no avail.

Doncic had flirted with triple-doubles twice already at these Olympics, finally getting this one on a rebound that set up the final Slovenia possession. The other triple-doubles in Olympic men’s play: Alexander Belov for the Soviet Union in 1976 and LeBron James for the U.S. in 2012.

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Julius Randle agrees to 4-year, $117 million extension with New York Knicks

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New York Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle has agreed to a four-year, $117 million contract extension — elevating his deal’s total value to five years and $140 million, his agents Aaron Mintz and Steven Heumann of CAA Sports told ESPN.

The extension includes a player option on the final season in 2025-2026.

Randle had a remarkable, breakthrough season for the Knicks, earning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and second-team All-NBA honors on his way to leading the franchise back to the playoffs with a fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Randle could’ve waited for his contract to expire next season and signed a new $200 million deal, but extending now off his current $19.8 million salary for 2021-2022 gives the Knicks financial flexibility to shape the roster and allows him to commit through his prime to a franchise and city he has come to adore — and has come to adore him.

Randle, 26, flourished under the NBA’s Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Randle helped return the Knicks to the postseason and became something of a New York basketball cult hero for playing such a significant role in the Knicks revitalization.

Randle arrived to the Knicks on a three-year free agent deal in 2018 after two seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans, and four with the Los Angeles Lakers. Randle was the No. 7 overall pick out of Kentucky in the 2014 NBA draft.

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