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Irving returns, but new-look Nets beaten by Cavaliers in 2 OTs

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving needed some time. The new-look Nets will require some as well.

Irving returned from his personal “pause” and scored 37 points in his first game with Kevin Durant and James Harden, but Brooklyn’s “Big 3” couldn’t keep up with Cleveland’s Collin Sexton, who scored 42 and led the Cavaliers to a 147-135 double-overtime win on Wednesday.

Sexton made four 3-pointers — most of them over Irving — and scored 15 points in the second OT. He dropped two 3s and fed Taurean Prince for another in a dizzying, 55-second span as Cleveland put it away.

“He played out of his mind,” said Cavs forward Cedi Osman, who scored 25. “It was amazing.”

While it was tough to lose, Irving was impressed by Sexton, who looked a lot like Irving on one of his scoring tears.

“Two overtimes for my first game back?” said Irving, who played a career-high 48 minutes in his first game since Jan. 5. “You gotta love NBA ball, though. I was smiling when Collin Sexton was making those shots.”

Durant scored 38 points and Harden added 21 as Brooklyn’s trio of superstars combined for 96 points in their first game together. But it wasn’t enough to outlast Sexton, who missed Cleveland’s last five games with a sprained ankle.

The Cavs threw some exotic defenses at the Nets, who only got Irving back at practice on Tuesday and haven’t had time to work on much.

“Look, this is the first night,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. “We seemed a little lost at times. We were a little flat and disjointed at times.”

Prince, acquired in the four-team deal that brought Harden to Brooklyn, scored 17 in his Cavs debut and Larry Nance Jr. had 15.

Sexton will forever be linked to Irving. He was selected by Cleveland with the draft pick the Cavs got from Boston in the trade for Irving in 2017.

Like Irving, Sexton wears No. 2, and like Irving, he makes big shots.

“I definitely accepted the challenge,” Sexton said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy — because it’s Kyrie.”

Irving had missed Brooklyn’s last seven games, leaving on Jan. 7 to address some issues he didn’t specify while speaking with reporters Tuesday. Irving only said he needed space to work through some issues to find balance in his life.

While he was away, the Nets rocked the league by pulling off the blockbuster deal for Harden, whose arrival has made Brooklyn the favorite to unseat Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference and a legit NBA title threat — maybe.

Before the game, Nash admitted being “curious” about how his trio of superstars would align on the floor.

“But I’m not in a hurry,” he said, stressing it may take time for Durant, Irving and Harden to figure things out.

The Nets are indeed a work in progress. There were moments of sloppiness, miscommunication and even confusion as Brooklyn’s players tried to find some cohesion in just Harden’s third game.

“We’ll have good nights, great nights,” Irving said. “I’m excited for what’s to come.”

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