LeBron James gave the 17,569 New Jersey fans everything they came to see, but in the end, it was his passing that put the Cleveland Cavaliers over the top.
James notched 28 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists as Cleveland beat New Jersey, 94-89, in a matinee at The Izod Center.
James dished out two assists late in the fourth quarter that led to six points and ultimately put the game out of reach for the Nets.
The Nets came as close as 81-77 after Yi Jianlian knocked down a free-throw with 4:39 to play in the game. James took from there, however. He led the Cavs on an 8-0 run that featured a thunderous dunk and an assist on Daniel Gibson’s three-pointer with 3:04 left.
“[LeBron] sees the floor so well, he can beat you in a lot of different ways,” said Devin Harris, who scored a team-high 22 points. “He can score, but the way he passes the ball, he spreads out the floor and makes him even more tough to guard.”
The now 3-30 Nets exploded out of the gate, grabbing a 26-19 lead after the first quarter. They led by as many as nine points after Terrence Williams stole an errant Mo Williams pass and converted a lay-up to give the Nets a 32-32 lead with 8:19 remaining in the second quarter.
From that point on, however, Cleveland clamped down defensively and the Nets struggled at the offensive end. Although New Jersey only trailed 44-43 at the half, offense was hard to come by. The Cavs limited the Nets to 35 points in the second and third quarters combined.
“We just stuck to the gameplan, we didn’t do anything differently,” said Cleveland point guard Mo Williams, who scored 18 points. “We just had to get in the game. They came out with a lot of energy, which we knew they would. We just stayed the course.”
Cleveland opened the second half on an 11-4 run and forced the Nets to play from behind for the entire second half. Anthony Parker scored all six of his points during that run.
James capped off the third quarter with a three-pointer that followed a previous air-ball on the same possession. Cleveland led, 69-61, after three quarters.
Nets’ interim head coach credited the Cavs’ defense and rebounding for slowing his team down. Cleveland limited New Jersey to 38.7 percent shooting from the field and outrebounded the Nets, 52-38. The Cavs also hauled in 16 offensive rebounds.
“We stayed with them, we competed, but if you’re going to win these type of games, you really need a 48 minute effort,” Vandeweghe said. “I think they just got more aggressive defensively… Really, again, what was the difference was 16 offensive rebounds for them and I think they scored close to 30 percent of their points on second-chance points. You’re not going to win a lot of games when that happens.”
Chris Douglas-Roberts, often guarding James, scored 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Brook Lopez added 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Yi Jianlian poured in 11 points and hauled in a team-high eight rebounds.
Yi struggled from the field though, shooting 2-of-13. Courtney Lee went 3-of-9, scoring nine points while the Nets’ bench only combined for eight points.
For Cleveland, Anderson Varejao energized his team off the bench. Varejao went for a double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Varejao emerged as a presence in the offensive end that enabled Cleveland to outscore New Jersey, 52-32, in the paint.
While the team is still progressing offensively, Douglas-Roberts believes the Nets need to make changes on the defensive end.
“We’re still trying to establish roles. We have to recognize the guys who are capable of scoring. We just have to realize that and get the ball to those guys,” Douglas-Roberts said. “That’s offensively, but defensively, it’s another story. I think we still have to focus more on defense.”
Williams recognizes Yi’s potential
Cleveland point guard Mo Williams played with Yi when the two were in Milwaukee. Williams talked to Yi and said the two remain close.
“Yi, that’s my guy,” Williams proclaimed. “You know, me and Yi have got history. We were in Milwaukee together so I wished him the best of luck.”
Williams noted that Yi struggled as a rookie in Milwaukee, but he has improved and can continue to do so.
“Being a rookie, you’ve got a lot to learn,” Williams said. “He’s still young, still got room to grow, and he’s only going to get better.”