CLEVELAND — One night after breaking their eight-game losing streak at home, the Nets went toe-to-toe down the stretch with the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. But their losing streak at the Q extended to 10 straight losses when Rodney Hood put the Cavaliers ahead for good with a three-point play in the final minute of their 129-123 victory.
Down by six midway in the fourth quarter, the Nets fought back with a 10-2 burst to gain a 111-109 lead on a three-pointer by D’Angelo Russell at the 3:40 mark. The lead changed hands seven more times coming down the stretch, the last with 40.2 seconds left when Hood hit a right-wing jumper and a foul shot for a 123-121 Cavs lead.
Russell then missed a corner jumper while trying to draw a foul against George Hill. The Nets were forced to foul, the Cavs made their final six free throws, and LeBron James recorded his 12th triple-double of the season with 31 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
“We never found a solution to stop them,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It’s tough. George Hill and LeBron obviously had great games. But I think we’re happy with the way we competed. We got a win [Monday] night. Tonight, we had an opportunity to win and couldn’t close the deal.”
The Cavaliers (36-24) also got 26 points from Hill and 18 from Kyle Korver, and they hit 12 of 24 three-pointers. Russell led seven Nets (20-42) in double figures with 25 points, Caris LeVert added 18 and Spencer Dinwiddie had 11 points and 11 assists as the Nets shot 53.7 percent.
Speaking of the coverage by Jarrett Allen on Hood’s three-point play, Atkinson said, “I thought Jarrett did a great job on his closeout with Hood, kept him in front and then Hood makes a heck of a shot. I wish he didn’t foul him, but that’s what we’re learning.”
Russell’s awkward corner jumper came on the Nets’ next possession when his shot didn’t come close with 20.5 seconds left. “D’Angelo got it in the corner,” Atkinson said. “Hill gets up into him. I’m not going to make a judgment there. I think D’Angelo tried to draw the foul, but it didn’t work out.”
Russell said he simply was trying to put the ball in play, and he was reluctant to comment on whether or not a foul should have been called. Asked if he was trying to draw contact, Russell said, “I was already deep corner. I’m not trying to intentionally walk out of bounds or fall out of bounds. So however you want to put that.”
Despite their defensive problems against the Cavs, Atkinson was cheered by the return to health of LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. “I feel with this group here being healthy now, we’re going to keep getting better,” Atkinson said. “ We want to finish the rest of this season on an upswing. Now, we’ve got a tough West Coast trip coming up, but I do feel good about the direction we’re going right now.”