New Jersey Nets 103, Cleveland Cavaliers 101: Breathing a Sigh of Relief

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Well, that was a close one.

If you thought my last recap of a Nets game was condemning of the franchise, that would have only been scratching the surface of what I would have written had the Nets blown this game against the Cavaliers.

Fortunately, Avery Johnson and the rest managed to figure out in time that they were playing Cleveland, the league’s worst team by consensus, just before the night ended. To be honest, though, the means to the end were disappointing to say the least. While the offense was more potent than usual, the defense was equally pungent. Two days after holding the Dallas Mavericks to under 90 points, the Nets allowed (and I do mean allowed) the Cavs to break the century mark in addition to letting them shoot 45 percent from the field. By absolute standards, that’s not terrible — but again, these are the Cavs.

In the pregame open thread, I cautioned about letting Antawn Jamison and J.J. Hickson get going offensively. Apparently that memo didn’t reach the team. In related news, Brett Yormark may or may not be using the correct cover page on his TPS reports.

Hickson was a volume shooter, to be sure, needing 19 field-goal attempts just to muster 12 points. Jamison, on the other hand, tore the Nets apart from all areas: from the paint, from deep, and from the charity stripe. The only sign of NBA basketball left on that team torched the Nets for 26 points on 7-of-16 shooting, including 2-of-5 from downtown, and perfect 10-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line. I suppose you can’t guard everyone all the time, but aren’t there better candidates for the Daily Ignored than Jamison on that team?

Meanwhile, I’d like to credit Joey Graham for pulling an anti-Stephen Graham at the end of tonight’s game. With the Cavaliers down three points, Joey stuck a three-pointer from the corner to square the game at 101. It was Stephen who, in the second overtime of the Nets’ 3OT loss to the Thunder, fouled Jeff Green in the act of shooting from beyond the arc with the Thunder down three points. Kudos to Joey.

Before I rant about how good things happen when Brook Lopez has the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter, here’s a short aside about Derrick Favors.

The man had a good first half, including a four-play stretch in the second quarter that made him look like an all-star. Amassing four points and two great defensive plays during that span, Favors started making me come to grips with the dissolution of the Carmelo Anthony trade. Moments later, he followed it up with a couple of bonehead plays that brought me back down to Earth. Overall, he had a great game. 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 17 minutes is impressive.

Obviously that last figure begs the question: why didn’t he play more? The immediate answer that comes to mind: He must have been in foul trouble. But what if I told you he didn’t have a single personal foul during those 17 productive minutes?

It’s true, in fact, that Avery Johnson decided to bench Favors for the remainder of the game after failing to box out on a free throw leading to a Cleveland offensive rebound. When you have a player like Kris Humphries (11 points, 11 rebounds) coming off the bench, you can afford to play the disciplinarian role with a young player to make the point that fundamentals are necessary to winning. So I have no qualms with Johnson’s personnel decisions.

But once Hump starts taking shots from more than 10 feet away from the basket, maybe it’s time to give the rook a second chance. Hump’s a great rebounder and bruiser, but midrange shooting isn’t exactly his specialty. No matter — the Nets won, and Favors will think twice before he blows a box out on a free throw again.

As for Lopez: Has Johnson finally realized that he can be an asset in the closing minutes? On essentially every play in latter half of the fourth quarter, the Nets ran the same set with double picks along the baseline to establish Brook in the post with a mismatch. And it worked.

After missing a shot with 8:41 left to play in the game, Lopez took four shots before the end; he made all four of them, including a 10-foot jump hook with just over a second left to seal the game.

It’s easier to defend giving the ball to Lopez in the post down the stretch when Anthony Morrow is back to keep defenders honest on double teams, but it appears the Nets have found a stop-gap solution to their lack-of-a-closer woes. How many centers can seal a game for their team like that with such efficiency? Very few.

Speaking of Morrow, his return to this team has been a godsend. Vujacic is a good shooter, there’s no doubt, but Morrow just adds to the team’s arsenal from beyond the three-point line. His shooting ability lets the Nets space the floor so much better, and if defenders overplay him, he can beat them with a dribble move and pull up from anywhere in the 10- to 15-foot range. And he never misses from there. Morrow only had 16 points and shot 1-of-6 from deep this game, but his buckets always seem to be meaningful.

Lastly, give credit where credit is due: Jordan Farmar had a solid game, logging 11 points while shooting 3-of-4 from distance. I think it’s the hair; he’s recreating the UCLA mystique.