The first 36 minutes of Thursday’s game belonged to LeBron James. The last – and most important – 12 belonged to the Brooklyn Nets.
James had 30 points in the first three quarters, but the Nets held the Cleveland Cavaliers to just 12 fourth quarter points, finishing the game on a 14-3 run; winning 104-95 at Barclays Center.
“We just played sound basketball down the stretch,” Interim Coach Tony Brown said. We got defensive stops. They missed shots, we were able to control the game from there. I think they might have missed their last four or five shots on their possessions. That gave us an opportunity to get out on the open court and run.”
The 12 fourth quarter points allowed were a season-low for the Nets – and were almost all scored exclusively in the first half of the quarter. When Brook Lopez (22 points) checked into the game with 5:41 to play, the Nets trailed 92-90. From there, the Nets went on a 14-0 run, holding the Cavaliers without a basket until garbage time, stepping up against the top team in the Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers missed seven consecutive three’s in the final five-and-a-half minutes of the fourth and shot 19% (4-of-21) in the quarter. The Nets took what they gave them: free possessions, six fastbreak points and an 18-0 advantage in points in the paint in the fourth quarter.
“When we really succeed we play great team basketball, we shared the ball, played with each other,” Lopez said. “On defense, we finished each defensive possession with a rebound.”
Brown challenged his team to play with more intensity and they delivered on Thursday night. The Nets had 10 steals – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the team with three – to the Cavs three, had four blocks to Cleveland’s two and forced the visitors into 14 turnovers.
“Our intensity was up, we had a lot more bounce on the court than we normally have,” Brown said before praising his players. “Rondae played 16 minutes and gave us a lot of athleticism, a lot of bounce out there. Chris McCullough [too]. Markel Brown finishing the game gave us a huge defensive effort to end the game. Shane Larkin, unbelievable game by him, good floor general today.”
Hollis-Jefferson finished the game with 10 points, including eight in the fourth quarter on 4-of-5 shooting, and a memorable one-on-one showdown with James, drawing an offensive foul. Brown was 2-of-3 in the fourth, kickstarting the Nets’ run with a putback dunk and a three-pointer to give them the lead. Larkin finished the game with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, returning to the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 8.
“I’m just trying to finish out strong after being awarded the opportunity of being a starter,” Larkin said. “It’s a good feeling; I just want to take advantage of the opportunity.”
James aside, the Cavaliers had a frustrating night from the field. Kevin Love (11 points, 5-of-14) and Kyrie Irving (13 points, 6-of-22) shot a combined 11-of-36 from the field and 1-of-13 from range. That was part of the reason the Nets led 59-49 at the half and that lead was imperative, allowing the Nets some points to give when the Cavaliers stormed back with a 34-21 third quarter.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “They made some runs, we made some runs. In the long run, at the end we stuck with it and fought through it.”
Thursday night was also special on a personal note for Lopez, who passed Vince Carter for second in all-time Nets’ scoring (8,835).
“It’s an honor,” Lopez said. “I played with Vince, he’s one of those all-time greats, a Hall-of-Fame player, no question. It’s a huge honor, but a testament to the kind of guys who I’ve played with who were great playmakers, got the ball in positions where I could score easy. Each one is pretty much an assist for guys out there.”
The Nets return to Barclays Center on Saturday night to play the Indiana Pacers. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. Find Tickets