The Nets Beat The Cavaliers, Because Of Course They Did

The Nets kept LeBron James & company guessing all night. (AP)
The Nets kept LeBron James & company guessing all night. (AP)

What happened: The Nets beat the Cavaliers, because of course they did, 106-98.

Where they stand: Still alive. The Nets are now 31-40, just a half-game behind the Boston Celtics for the eighth and final playoff spot. They’re also a half-game up on the Indiana Pacers and a full game up on the Charlotte Hornets in the Great Race For Last Playoff Place.

That was… Unbelievable. Four nights after losing by 19 to the Boston Celtics and two after eking out a victory against the Charlotte Hornets, the Nets, the NBA’s only team with a worse record at home than away, played one of their best all-around games of the season.

It was an entertaining matchup throughout. The Nets played fantastic basketball, running through their sets and getting open looks inside and out with surgical precision by running their offense through Joe Johnson; the Cavaliers were just fantastic at basketball, hitting fadeaway three-pointers and ridiculous twisting layups through tight defense.

It was Neo vs. Agent Smith, but this time, Agent Smith prevailed: the Cavaliers could only do so much through their “Big 3,” and while LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love combined for 68 points on 24-48 shooting, the Nets neutralized Cleveland’s secondary options and never relinquished control.

The Cavaliers didn’t lead by more than two at any point in the third quarter, and after Jarrett Jack opened the fourth with a mid-range jumper, the Nets never trailed again, out-scoring the Cavaliers 27-19 in the final frame en route to the victory.

Both teams went to a stretchier lineup in the fourth quarter, matching LeBron James & Joe Johnson at the power forward spot. It was a look that the Nets struggled to counteract on March 18 as the Cavaliers rolled to a 117-92 victory, but handled effectively Friday night, even with Brook Lopez playing minutes at center against Kevin Love.

“The big key was when they went LeBron (at power forward), Love (at center) in the fourth quarter, Brook was able to stay in the game,” Lionel Hollins said. “He guarded Love, kept him from getting lined up for shots, he was good in pick-and-rolls, and we executed.”

Five Nets scored in double figures, led by Joe Johnson & Brook Lopez, who each scored 20. Lopez added nine rebounds, and Johnson nine assists.

The win helps the Nets avoid getting swept by the Cavaliers this season. “It’s definitely satisfying to come back and be able to take care of business at home,” Deron Williams said.

Game Grades: Read ’em here.

The Joe Johnson I Know:

Over the past 13 games heading into Friday night, Joe Johnson had scored fewer than 10 points six times, and only shot 50 percent or better three times. But against the Cavaliers, he looked more like the Joe Johnson of old, and he felt it, too.

“I felt pretty good, just trying to be aggressive on both ends,” Johnson said in response to a question about the tendinitis he has dealt with this season.

One of my favorite insights about Johnson, and you may have read it before in this space, came last year from former Nets guard Shaun Livingston. He surmised that when Johnson dominated a game, it creeps up on you, because he does a lot of little, unmemorable things that add up over time.

You can see Stephen Curry getting hot from three-point range from 23.9 miles away. The arena buzzes after a LeBron James dunk or chasedown block. All eyes are on Kyrie Irving when he puts someone on the floor with a crossover, and the ensuing step-back jumper is indelibly written into your memories.

But Johnson at his best takes games over in subtle, varying ways: he’ll hit a three-pointer, curl around a screen into the paint for a short floater, post-up Iman Shumpert for a layup one time and a fallaway jumper in another, spot up for one three-pointer in the first quarter and then toss in a 30-footer off the dribble in the fourth.


There’s no connective tissue here, but before you know it, he’s got 20 efficient points

When Deron Williams throws eight of his 14 assists to Brook Lopez, you make note of the connection the two players have. But when Joe Johnson throws nine assists to eight different players like he did Friday night, it’s like a quarterback hitting all of his receivers.

At his best, Johnson’s signature move is that he doesn’t have one. That’s what happened tonight, and that’s why Joe Johnson earned the rare A+ game. Johnson finished the night with 20 points on 7-14 shooting (3-7 from three-point range), tying a Nets career-high with nine assists and adding five rebounds.

One Fun Bit Of Nets Offense: When you hear the Nets executed against the Cavaliers, here’s what that means:

This is just a great basketball read. Johnson has the mismatch with the Nets playing smaller, and has the opportunity to take Kevin Love off the dribble. LeBron James, guarding Bojan Bogdanovic, recognizes that Love needs help, and overplays the “strong side” of the floor, abandoning Bogdanovic entirely. Anderson, perhaps by design or perhaps in reaction, sees Bogdanovic in his space and starts cutting towards the strong side, bringing his defender J.R. Smith with him, and leaving Bogdanovic alone.

Smith is quick enough to recover on Bogdanovic, but Bogdanovic knows Smith is extending himself on the recovery, puts up a quick pump-fake to get Smith off his feet, and steps in for the easy jumper.

Bogdanovic had himself quite a night, finishing with 18 points on 7-12 shooting.

Undefeated update: The Nets are undefeated in the Earl Clark era.

“I have to give kudos to Earl Clark,” Hollins said, “who I didn’t play in the first half, and I was thinking about not playing him at all because I hadn’t played him in the first half. And I remember telling (the media) I wasn’t afraid to play him. My grandmother used to say, “a scared man can’t win.” So I put him in the game. I said, ‘what the heck?’ and I put him in the game, and he was huge. He made some big shots for us and kept us afloat.”

Clark made his first shot, a 20-footer from the corner, and finished the night with seven points on 3-5 shooting.

Deron Williams Can Still Act A Fool, Act I:

Watch Kyrie Irving’s eyes here. He looks like he’s seen a pot of gold off camera and is just trying to get Williams out of his way.

Herb Turetzky Ripken Jr.: Nets-Cavaliers marked the 1,300th consecutive home game worked by official scorer Herb Turetzky — 1,240 in the regular season, and 60 in the playoffs. The streak dates back to May 3rd, 1984, a 100-93 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs.

His streak is older than 11 Nets players, including the recently signed Earl Clark. The #1 song on that date in the U.S. was “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins. It’s a long streak, is what I’m saying here.

Home Cooking: Deron Williams said during shootaround that he’s never been on a team that has a worse record at home than on the road, as the Nets do this season. That’s not technically true: the last NBA team with a better road record than home record was none other than the 2011-12 New Jersey Nets, who were 9-24 in Prudential Center and 13-20 in opposing arenas in the lockout-shortened season.

But we’ll give Williams a pass — or maybe a medal — for blocking that season out of his mind. It’s not like they felt like home games there anyway.

CHARGE! The Nets drew five offensive fouls, an uncharacteristically high number. After the fourth, Cavaliers coach David Blatt was livid enough to draw a technical foul.

Deron Williams Can Still Act A Fool, Act II:

These days in Brooklyn you have to pay $2.75 to get from one side of the turnstile to the other like that.

I Got 5 On It: Despite these on-the-ground moves, Williams struggled with the Cavaliers, finishing with five points, five rebounds, five assists, and five turnovers in 22 minutes. He played just eight minutes in the third quarter, and sat for the entire fourth.

The Good Life:

Something is dangerously wrong with the Telestrator:

please send help
please send help

Next up: The Nets take on the 19-52 Los Angeles Lakers in Brooklyn on Sunday. The way they’ve played this past week, who knows how that’ll go?