Nets clinch 7th seed with impressive win over Clippers

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The Nets came out and floored the Clippers with the best offensive quarter in the NBA all season. And they held off Kawhi Leonard & Co. the rest of the way with arguably their most impressive win of the restart.

Brooklyn essentially led wire-to-wire for a 129-120 win against a Clippers team many feel will win the championship. They clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and rode a first-quarter blitzkrieg to do it at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

“We’re trying to win, play hard, play the right way, continue to improve and get our group on in to the playoffs and have some momentum,” said Tyler Johnson, who had 21 points.

Behind Caris LeVert — who had 27 points and a career-high 13 assists playing the point — the Nets ran out to a quick 26-10 edge right out of the gate. They led 45-24 after a first quarter that saw them shoot a white-hot 85.7 percent — the best regulation quarter by any team all this season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

“It’s been good. We’ve played as a unit,” Garrett Temple said. “The one constant has been our ability to share the ball, which is great. Which bodes very well for playoffs, especially with the type of team that we have down here.”

The Nets only briefly saw the Clippers pull even — at 74-all, and again 77-all in the third — and never trailed the rest of the night. And while Orlando’s late-game gaffes in a loss to Boston cost them, the Nets’ early dominance and endgame poise saw them seal the seventh seed, and let them avoid a first-round date against the Bucks.

The Brooklyn Nets took down the Clippers tonight.NBAE via Getty Images

As Paul George rested, Leonard had a game-high 39 points for the Clippers. But with the Nets’ absences legion, their Bubble Big 3 of LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen all starred after having been doubtful at mid-day. Harris fouled out with 25 points and hit 5 of 8 from deep, while Allen finished with 16 points and 16 boards.

“Overall, you’ve got to give the guys credit,” said interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who put on a coaching masterclass with Clippers assistant Ty Lue — a purported contender for the Nets job — on the opposing bench. He improved to 4-2 in the Bubble.

“[Guys] have really taken to getting each other shots, getting into open areas and pushing the pace and just keeping things simple. If a guy is open, then they hit him. Really, we’ve tried not to complicate this game of basketball.”

The Nets got open early and often thanks to their movement.

Brooklyn jumped ahead 26-10, and even after the Clippers responded with nine unanswered points, LeVert steadied the Nets. It was a recurring theme.

The Nets shot 18 of 21 in the first quarter, and didn’t cool off too much in the second. Their 67.4 percent at the break tied their best-shooting half of the season, and their 74 points marked their second-highest scoring first half.

The Nets led 74-63 at the half, but saw the Clippers come out of the locker room with a run. Or to be more accurate, Leonard come out with a run.

Leonard opened the second half on a personal 11-0 spurt to pull the Clippers even at 74-all.

But Vaughn called a timeout, drew up a nice play and saw Garrett hit a 3-pointer to staunch the bleeding. The Clippers knotted it on a Reggie Jackson 3, but the Nets retook the momentum with seven unanswered points.

Another Temple 3-pointer put the Nets back ahead 84-77, and it was the Clippers turn for a timeout.

The Clippers started to pick LeVert up and pressure him to wear him out — holding him to four points in the third quarter, and the Nets to 2 of 9 from deep. And the Nets saw their lead shrivel to 98-94 after the period.

But consecutive 3s by Johnson padded the lead back to 104-94, and they held on.