Jefferson Sparks Nets to Seventh Straight Win
New Jersey 96, Cleveland 91
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Dec. 27 (Ticker) -- Not even a sub-par game from Vince Carter and a matchup with LeBron James and the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers could slow down the New Jersey Nets.
Richard Jefferson scored 28 points and helped Jason Kidd dominate the latter stages of the third quarter as the Nets held on to extend their winning streak to a season-high seven games with a 96-91 victory over the Cavaliers, who had their own six-game run snapped.
The Nets dominated the first half, shooting 59 percent (23-of-39), and led by as many as 17 early in the second half. But they went cold to start the third quarter and Carter went to the bench with 8:35 left after picking up his fourth foul.
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Carter did not return until the fourth quarter, but Jefferson and Kidd picked up the slack.
"It just shows the growth of this team," Kidd said. "It shows Vince, with the load he's been carrying, that we were there to help him. Everybody played a part tonight."
The Nets missed their first nine shots of the third before Jefferson buried a 3-pointer at 5:52. Kidd added a long jumper 24 seconds later, but Cleveland responded with consecutive baskets, including one by James that made it 66-58 with 4:14 to go.
Jefferson answered with a pair of free throws and Kidd buried back-to-back 3-pointers just 28 seconds apart to spark a 14-4 run. Kidd assisted on a jumper by Jacque Vaughn with 74 seconds left and closed the quarter by feeding Jefferson for a reverse dunk to give the Nets their largest lead at 80-62.
"We weren't flowing and were stagnant out there, and Kidd just took over," Carter said.
The Cavaliers attempted to rally in the fourth, making 12-of-20 shots to make things interesting. James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas combined for 10 points in a 12-0 run that drew Cleveland within 89-83 with 2:40 left.
"Teams are going to make runs," Carter said. "We bend but don't break. That's been our attitude these past seven or eight games. If they keep coming, we're going to have to keep coming."
James and Larry Hughes each buried shots from the arc in the final minute before Eric Snow made a layup to cut the deficit to 94-91 with 15 seconds to go. But Kidd made two free throws and James missed a long 3-pointer on the other end, sealing the win for New Jersey.
"It was about digging down and fighting harder, which is what we did in the second half," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "There are some positives in our comeback, but we have to understand that we can't get into that kind of deficit on the road."
Kidd collected 14 points, nine rebounds and nine assists and Nenad Krstic added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Nets, who have won seven straight for the first time since a franchise-record 14-game run from January 25-February 24, 2004.
"We are getting better," Jefferson said. "Are we a good team? We're getting there. The last two games, we've been up by 20 and let the other team come back. Good teams don't let that happen."
"(The Cavaliers) have the second-best record in the East and we're a team that's trying to get where they are," Kidd said. "Why not try to be like San Antonio or Detroit or one of the elite teams? We set our goals high and we're trying to get there."
James had 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and Ilgauskas scored 21 points for the Cavaliers, who have lost five straight meetings with the Nets and seven consecutive visits to New Jersey.
"It's going to be hard to beat anybody that's a division leader when you allow them to shoot 59 percent in the first half," Brown said. "When you're playing on the road in a good team's building, it's hard to come back from a big deficit."
"I've said it for a while, we have to approach road games like we are the home team," James said. "But that's difficult to do for anyone in this league."
Cleveland scored the game's first seven points, but New Jersey made 11 of its final 19 shots in the first quarter en route to a 29-21 lead.
Jefferson scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the second, capping the first half by driving past James and sinking a runner over Ilgauskas at the buzzer for a 56-41 halftime advantage.