Nets Dominate Fourth Quarter on Way to Win
New Jersey 78, Portland 65
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 15 (Ticker) -- The New Jersey Nets are learning that a little bit of defense goes a long way.
The Nets got big games from Vince Carter and Nenad Krstic and clamped down defensively in an ugly 78-65 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, whose season may have reached a new low.
"The defense did a wonderful job," Nets point guard Jason Kidd said. "When we play defense, we have a good chance of winning. It was not a pretty game, but good teams win ugly games. We're going in the right direction."
Aiding the cause Wednesday was some pitiful shooting by the Trail Blazers, who entered the game scoring a league-worst 88.3 points per game.
Portland (20-44) did not make a basket in the fourth quarter until Zach Randolph's layup with 4:21 to play and finished 1-of-13 from the field for just five points - a franchise record-low for any quarter.
"That's been a quarter that has hurt us a lot this season," Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "(We are not) finishing the ballgame and understanding that the intensity goes up in the fourth quarter."
Overall, Portland shot 41 percent (26-of-63) and committed 20 turnovers. The Blazers made 10-of-17 shots in the first quarter to take a 24-23 lead but connected on only 16 baskets the rest of the way en route to their 16th loss in 19 games.
"We stopped moving the ball, started standing around and defensively they tightened up," said McMillan, whose team somehow managed to regress offensively from Tuesday's 95-66 loss to Chicago. "We settled for a perimeter game instead of good ball movement and taking it to the basket."
The story is a much prettier one for the Nets, who increased their lead in the Atlantic Division to four games over Philadelphia. They were led by 26 points from Carter and 22 from Richard Jefferson, who combined to score the team's first 15 points.
"The team in general stepped it up, got in passing lanes and made them take tough shots," said Carter, who scored 14 points in the opening session. "We're trying to win as many games as possible, some ugly, hopefully some impressive."
However, the story down the stretch for the Nets was Krstic, who scored nine of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.
"We need every game," said Krstic, who made 9-of-20 shots. "So we knew at the end of the third quarter that we needed to step it up."
The 7-foot Serbian opened the session with a jumper and layup, giving New Jersey the lead for good at 61-60. Midway through the period, he converted a three-point play and knocked down a jumper on consecutive possessions for a 71-61 cushion.
"It just shows his maturity, his growth in his second year," Kidd said. "He's shown he can play inside and out and that makes us a dangerous team."
Meanwhile, Kidd missed all five of his shots and was held scoreless for the first time since November 17, 2001, a span of 348 games.
"I have a little head cold, but nothing serious," admitted Kidd, who did contribute seven assists, six rebounds and four steals. "I tried to help as much as I could, but I didn't have the energy."
Randolph scored 24 points and Steve Blake added 12 and 10 assists for Portland, which has lost 16 of its last 18 road games.
The Blazers started strong, making seven of their first eight shots. However, Carter drilled a half-court shot at the first-quarter buzzer to bring the Nets within one.
New Jersey led by as many as eight points midway through the third quarter before Portland scored 13 of the final 15 points of the period to take a 60-57 edge. Blake had a hand in each basket during the spurt with a 3-pointer and five assists but failed to spark the offense in the fourth quarter.