The NBA leading Cleveland Cavaliers (42–11) had to play hard every step of the way against the league’s worst team the New Jersey Nets (4–47) for a 104–97 win in Cleveland on Tuesday night.
It was indeed hard to believe that it was the Nets on the court at Quicken Loans Arena giving the untouchable Cavs a run for their money in four quarters of clean play. After all, the Cavs have inflicted much heavier scoring damage against better teams in what is now their 12th straight win, tying a franchise record.
Sir LeBron James carried the team as usual, with 32 points and an impressive 11 assists. The bench came up big with Jawad Williams and Anderson Varejao notching 17 points and 15 points, respectively.
But New Jersey put up a strong fight, with all their starters hitting double digit scoring. Courtney Lee and Brook Lopez each broke 20 points. Lopez also pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds.
New Jersey opened like a winning team, pulling ahead by as much as eight points in the first quarter with prolific scoring from Jarvis Hayes who went going 3–4 in 3-pointers and 11 points in the first quarter.
The Lopez–Yi Jianlian duo helped clog the paint and force outside shots. The Nets moved the ball well on their end to find the open man. Shaq had a power dunk but other than that, he was largely ineffective.
The Cavs stepped it up in the second quarter though, playing aggressive defense and forcing six Nets turnovers.
The crowd was electrified midway through the second when Shaq had a monster shot block against Lopez, stuffing the ball against the backboard and then transitioning it quickly to James, who gave an alley-oop pass to Varejao for a flying one-hand dunk.
The Cavs had several more fast breaks and dunks before the first half was said and done, but despite their energetic play, they held a slim six-point lead 55–49.
The Nets showed perseverance throughout the third quarter, staying in the game with solid outside shooting from Lee.
Every time the Cavs made a run, the Nets answered with difficult shots to smolder the fire, never falling behind by more than 10 points. Both teams scored 23 points in the third quarter.
Smelling a potential defeat, James came out firing on all cylinders in the fourth quarter, attacking the basket, hitting the jumper, and finding the open man like only he can. There was just no way The King would allow the deplorable Nets to embarrass his league-leading team at home.
With no depth from the bench, the Nets began to break down against the fast-paced Cavs offense. But they managed to dig deep down the stretch and pulled back within seven points at the end, after being down by more than 10.
In the end it wasn’t a “W” for New Jersey, but at least they can be proud of the fact that they were able to hang with James and Shaq on the road.
“I thought in the first half we didn’t have as much of a grip as we normally do. But with guys stepping up both offensively and defensively we were able to get the win,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said in his postgame press conference.
“I definitely think [the Nets] are a better team than what their record shows.”
The Cavs have bigger fish to fry now, squaring off against the Orlando Magic on Thursday in what will be a rematch of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, which the Cavs lost.