The Nets got another big win on Friday night at Barclays Center, outlasting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-98.
The Nets have been searching all year for the win that will get them going, and it might have been a week ago against Milwaukee. That began this stretch of four wins in five games for the Nets (31-40) that has pulled them to just a half-game behind the Boston Celtics for the eighth and final playoff spot. They are only 4-1/2 games behind the reeling Milwaukee Bucks for the sixth spot.
Cleveland came out strong, as J.R. Smith fakesd out Markel Brown for a long jumper and then they forced a bad turnover by Joe Johnson. Kevin Love followed with a three to make it 5-0 Cleveland.
The Cavaliers were on cruise control when Timofey Mozgov dunked one to make it 13-7 at the 7:42 mark of the first, but just like that, within the next couple of minutes, the Nets were within two, at 17-15.
The Nets kept the momentum going, and tied it at 25 on an Alan Anderson layup at the 1:44 mark of the first. Lopez followed with a couple of free throws, and Jack hit a jumper, and the Nets improbably had a 29-27 lead at the end of the first.
The Nets kept the momentum going into the second, and opened up a nine-point lead, 46-37 on a Bojan Bogdanovic three at the 6:39 mark. Cleveland responded with a run, led by 12 points from LeBron James, to cut the Nets’ lead to 57-56 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Nets were trailing 63-61 with 7:43 left, and Head Coach Lionel Hollins turned to Earl Clark, the NBA veteran whom the Nets signed to a 10-day contract earlier on Friday.
Clark delivered, scoring 7 points the rest of the third, including a jumper with 1:00 left that gave the Nets a 78-77 lead. The game was tied at 79 entering the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, the Nets opened with a 7-2 run, including five points from Bogdanovic, to make it 86-81 and they never really looked back. Cleveland never got closer than two, and the Nets put it away when Joe Johnson hit a three with 2:56 left that made it 101-93.
Cleveland showed no sense of urgency and never turned it on in this one. The last time they played here, on December 8th, they led 50-49 at halftime and outscored the Nets 60-39 in the second half to win 110-88. In December, they had great ball movement and James took over in the fourth. In this game, their offense was basically somebody brought the ball up, everyone stood around and they took a long jumper. It was incredibly lazy and they looked bored most of the time.
James was held to 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting, 2-5 on threes, with 9 assists and 5 rebounds. Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 26 points, but he shot a miserable 10-for-22 from the field, 1-5 on threes, with just 3 assists and 2 rebounds. The third member of their Big 3, Kevin Love, had 18 points on 6-for-11 from the field, 2-4 on threes, with 7 rebounds and an assist.
Cleveland’s ex-Knicks trio largely did nothing. J.R. Smith shot a putrid 3-for-10, including 2-for-9 on threes, for just 8 points, along with 5 rebounds and an assist. Iman Shumpert had 9 points on 4-for-9 from the field, missed his three 3-point attempts, with 6 rebounds and an assist. Timofey Mozgov had just two points, shot 1-for-3 from the field, with 5 rebounds in 18 minutes.
The Nets had a very balanced scoring attack, led by Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson with 20 points each. Brook shot 7-for-16 from the field, with 9 rebounds. Johnson shot 7-for-14, including 3-for-7 on threes, with 9 assists and 5 rebounds. Bojan Bogdanovic had 18 points on 7-for-12 from the field, 2-for-5 on threes, with 4 rebounds. Jarrett Jack had 16 points (6-13 FG), including 7 points in the fourth, with 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Alan Anderson had 13 points on 5-for-11 from the field, with 4 rebounds.
Jarrett Jack said of the win, “We just came out here focused. Not worried about who the opponent is. We know what is at stake for us and that is more important than anybody that we are playing against. Of course you get up for certain teams more than others at times but we are trying to keep that same level of focus for everybody.”
Jack said of what worked well tonight, “I thought that we attacked. I thought that we defended first, and that is what made it easy for us on the offensive end.”
Jack said of the Nets’ getting a big win at home, where they are now 13-20, “We know we are capable. We have been through a lot of difficult obstacles throughout the course of the season. We know what it takes to be successful at home and away and we just need to do a better job of focusing while we are in our home building,and coming out making plays.”
Joe Johnson said of what led to their success, “It wasn’t just me being aggressive, but as a team playing great defense, getting out, getting the easy baskets that kind of fueled our defense.”
On what this win means for the Nets, Johnson said, “At this point for us, every game is important. I was glad that we came out and got off to a great start and then just sustained for 40 minutes. That was the main thing, just give ourselves a chance, and we did that. This was definitely a much-needed victory and I was glad to see us play great here at home.”
Johnson said of how he felt playing tonight with regard to tendonitis, “I felt pretty good, just trying to be aggressive on both ends. Make LeBron James work defensively as well as offensively, and I thought that we did a great job. Myself, Alan (Anderson), and collectively as a team, in guarding him (LeBron) and not letting him get the easy baskets.”
On success in the fourth quarter, Johnson said, “This is kind of where they started hurting us, Cleveland, when LeBron James went to the four and running a lot of pick and rolls and getting guys like Shumpert and J.R. Smith wide open shots. We wanted to eliminate that tonight, and thought that we did a great job. We had to play a lot of straight up one-on-one defense on Kevin Love and LeBron, I thought we did a decent job.”