CLEVELAND — For three quarters, it seemed the Nets had LeBron James, the self-crowned “King of New York” under solid control, limiting him to a mere 10 points. Apparently, James was just saving himself for an incredible finishing kick in which he scored 23 fourth-quarter points to lift the Cavaliers to a 119-109 victory over the Nets Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. It was the sixth straight win for the Cavs and avenged an early-season loss to the Nets.
The Nets showed some toughness early in the fourth quarter when they put together an 11-5 surge, including six points from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to tie the game at 97 with 5:32 left to play. That’s when James, who sat out part of the third quarter after suffering a facial cut that required stitches, asserted himself down the stretch.
The Cavs’ closing 20-10 run began with a Kevin Love free throw followed by 18 straight points by James, including a pair of threes. James totaled 33 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
“He really took over,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He got to the rim a bunch, and then the threes, tough step-back threes. Great, great player. We tried different things. We tried switching, and he kind of picks out the guy he wants to go at. I’m disappointed. I thought we had some open looks on the offensive end that might have made it a little tighter.”
Hollis-Jefferson rebounded from a scoreless first half to lead the Nets (6-11) with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting, ex-Cav Joe Harris had 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Allen Crabbe added 15. The Nets held a commanding 42-29 advantage in rebounding and made 14 threes (of 34 attempts) for the fourth straight game.
But all the Cavs (11-7) needed in the end was James, who last week led a comeback win over the Knicks at the Garden and then crowned himself on social media. He was supported by Love (18 points, 10 rebounds), Dwyane Wade (18 points, five assists), Jae Crowder (14) and Kyle Korver (12).
The Nets more than held their own on defense while grabbing a 46-45 halftime lead. James managed just eight first-half points, even botching a windmill slam dunk. Early in the third period, Harris had five points in a 10-4 run that pushed the Nets’ lead to 67-60. Thanks to the injury, James scored just two points in the quarter.
But the Nets’ strong play was negated in the final two minutes of the third when the Cavs put together an 8-0 burst to regain a one-point lead before Caris LeVert hit a foul shot to tie the game at 77 heading to the fourth quarter.
“I knew we weren’t playing with a good pace when I came out of the game, but I was just trying to be assertive, and I was able to make a couple plays,” James said. “When I don’t have my teammates setting screens, defending and getting rebounds, none of that’s even possible for me. They get the most credit.”
When James gets going the way he did against the Nets, it’s a helpless feeling. Asked what else the Nets might have done, Harris said, “Good question. He’s been at the top in this league for a long time and hasn’t shown any signs of letting up. He made some really tough plays and got everyone else involved.”
DeMarre Carroll started out as the primary defender on James, but in the end, all he could do was shake his head at what he witnessed in the fourth quarter. “He was hitting a lot of tough shots, step-backs,” Carroll said of James. “Ain’t too much you can do. LeBron getting downhill, trying to get the mismatches he wanted. He was smarter than us tonight.”