CLEVELAND — Under other circumstances, the Nets outscoring the defending NBA champion Cavaliers by 26 points from the late stages of the third quarter to the end of the game might have been cause for celebration. But the Nets were coming back from a 46-point deficit, their worst of the season. So the late comeback did nothing to wipe away the pain of a 119-99 beatdown Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Just as they did in a loss to Golden State the previous night at home, the Nets coughed up the ball on a regular basis, recording 19 turnovers that led to 22 Cavs points. “I don’t want to belabor it, but turnovers kind of fueled their offense,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We’re going to have to do a better job with our offensive execution.”
The turnover problem was especially bad in the first half as the Cavs built a 66-40 lead. The Nets had 12 turnovers that led to 16 Cavs points. The Nets played without forward Trevor Booker, who was rested, and his absence showed up early as the Cavs dominated points in the paint 40-20 in the first half and outrebounded the Nets by 10.
Those woes were compounded by the Nets’ problems on offense. In the first half, 32 of their 40 points came from Brook Lopez, Sean Kilpatrick and Jeremy Lin while the supporting cast shot 3-for-19, including 0-for-8 from three-point range. Starting forward Bojan Bogdanovic and top reserve guard Joe Harris went scoreless.
“They just came out and jumped on us immediately,” Lopez said. “They were more aggressive than us. We seemed a bit timid and tentative. I don’t know what it was, but they took advantage of that. They’re a team that feeds off that.”
Lopez topped the Nets (7-22) with 16 points. Spencer Dinwiddie scored 13, Kilpatrick had 12 and Anthony Bennett added 11. Lin had 10 points and six assists but also had five turnovers.
LeBron James led the Cavaliers (22-6) with 19 points and six assists. Tristan Thompson had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Kevin Love totaled 14 points and 15 rebounds and Kyrie Irving was the Cavs’ third player to record a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists.
Cleveland was without J.R. Smith, who underwent thumb surgery earlier in the day, but Love returned to the lineup.
Using the Nets as practice for a Christmas Day matchup with the Warriors, the Cavs’ starters came out for the third quarter and opened with a 31-11 run that pushed the lead to 46 points at 97-51. James had eight points in the stretch, including an alley-oop dunk on an inbounds play from the baseline that gave the Cavs a 40-point cushion.
Lin agreed that the turnover problem reared its ugly head again against the Cavs, who focused their defensive efforts on getting the ball out of the hands of Lopez, Lin and Kilpatrick. “That’s something we have to continue to figure out,” Lin said. “Me and Sean and Brook have to do a better job of taking care of the ball. It’s an issue.”
The Nets entered the fourth quarter trailing 98-57 and needing 31 points to match their season-low point total. They accomplished that much against the end of the Cavs’ bench, winning the final period 42-21.
“Sure, it takes a toll on all of us, but we reduced the margin,” Atkinson said. “That gives us some solace. I’ve seen it go the other way. We put our young guys in and they made a resurgence. That was positive.
“Maybe the record’s not what we want it to be, but I’m proud of this group. With their willingness and the process we’re following, I feel like we’re going to get better.”