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LeBron James, Cavaliers wear down Nets again in 4th quarter

LeBron James of the Cavaliers looks to make

LeBron James of the Cavaliers looks to make a pass against DeMarre Carroll and D'Angelo Russell of the Nets at Barclays Center on Sunday, Mar. 25, 2018. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The fourth quarter apparently is where Nets leads go to die. It happened for the third straight game as the Nets coughed up a nine-point third-quarter lead while allowing 34 fourth-quarter points in a 121-114 loss to the Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center.

The Cavs put together a 7-0 surge early in the fourth period to take a 97-95 lead with 8:39 left as LeBron James rested on the bench. The teams traded the lead three more times before James returned with 6:17 left and the Nets holding a 100-99 lead.

The Cavs immediately went on a 17-6 run for a 116-106 lead, including two alley-oop dunks by James plus two assists and a steal. That was all she wrote for the Nets, who blew third-quarter leads of 23 and 14 points in their previous two games against Charlotte and Toronto.

“We never really found a solution to stop [James] in the fourth,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “They use LeBron as a roller to the rim and then him handling, so we never figured that puzzle out. I thought we did a decent job the first three quarters, but 34 points is a lot to give up [in the fourth]. That was the difference.”

James totaled 37 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Cavaliers (44-29), who also got 20 points and 15 rebounds from Kevin Love, 18 points from Jordan Clarkson, 17 from George Hill and 16 from Rodney Hood.

Former Cavalier Joe Harris came off the bench to lead the Nets (23-51) with a career-high 30 points. He shot 11-for-14, including 6-for-7 from three-point range. DeMarre Carroll added 18 points and Spencer Dinwiddie had 16.

The Nets executed well with 27 assists on 38 made baskets and only 10 turnovers. They had a 95-90 lead early in the fourth quarter with James on the bench, but instead of building on it, they allowed the Cavs to outscore them 9-5 and cut the Nets’ lead to 100-99 while James was a spectator.

That was an opportunity missed. “Yeah, we were fully aware of that,” Harris said. “When he’s on the bench, you’re trying to take full advantage of it. But they had guys making plays, whether it was Clarkson or Hood making tough shots in the mid-range and they were knocking down threes at a high clip. When LeBron comes back in, it makes it easy on everybody else.”

When James returned, the Cavs scored on eight straight possessions to take a 10-point lead with 1:44 to go. The Nets hurt themselves with two turnovers in that span. Both led to alley-oops by James that fired up the Cavs.

“We had three turnovers down the stretch that kind of changed the game,” Carroll said, including one that led to an earlier Clarkson dunk. “Good teams don’t get loose toward the end of the game. We’ve got to learn that. We’ve got a young group, but we can’t keep preaching the same thing.”

Cleveland coach Larry Drew, who was filling in while Tyronn Lue addresses a health issue, noted how well the Nets have played against the Cavs, going 1-3 in the season series with no loss by more than 10 points.

“This Brooklyn team has been a really tough team for us to play against all year long at our building or theirs,” Drew said. “I’m just proud we hung in there . . . proud of the fact we didn’t fold.”

The Nets can take solace from Drew’s words, but at a certain point, losing the close ones becomes hard to swallow.

“We’ve been competing with every team,” Carroll said. “That’s what [stinks]. I’m a leader, and I tell them there’s no moral victories. We want to win the game.”

New York Sports