For three quarters, the Nets struggled against the lowly Cavaliers as they allowed a 15-point second-quarter lead turn into an eight-point third-period deficit. But the Nets found the desperation necessary for a playoff push as Spencer Dinwiddie scored 19 of his 28 points after that point to lead the charge down the stretch of a 113-107 victory Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
The Nets opened the final quarter with a 7-0 burst, including five straight points from Caris LeVert, to regain an 87-85 lead and breathe new life into the game. Former Net Nik Stauskas entered and hit a corner three for a short-lived one-point Cavs lead, but then Dinwiddie scored 12 points and had two assists in a 22-5 surge to push the Nets’ lead to 110-94 with 3:26 left.
Despite the win, the Nets actually dropped to seventh in the Eastern Conference, just .001 percentage points behind the Pistons, who also won.
“I thought our defense was good all night,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think Caris had an important stretch there when we were struggling and couldn’t really score. He made some big plays, started to get downhill, and obviously, Spencer, too. Those two guys, I thought they turned it up.”
In addition to Dinwiddie’s heroics, the Nets (34-33) got 25 points from D’Angelo Russell, marking the third time this season Dinwiddie and Russell have scored at least 25 in the same game. Dinwiddie’s 11th game of 25-plus points off the bench broke the franchise record set by Bubbles Hawkins in 1976-77. Jarrett Allen added 15 points and 11 rebounds, and LeVert chipped in 14 points.
The Cavs (16-49) got 24 points and 16 rebounds from Kevin Love, 22 points from David Nwaba and 17 points and 10 rebounds from Larry Nance Jr. But they were dominated in the paint by the Nets 58-38 and were held to 40.2 shooting from the field.
Love asserted himself in the third period, scoring 13 points in a 27-10 run that put the Cavs in front, 79-71, midway through the third period. But that’s when Dinwiddie turned up the pressure to get to the rim for seven points as the Nets cut their deficit to 85-80 going to the fourth quarter.
“They just keep coming at you,” Love said. “I think their guards really set the tone for them. They’re playing downhill, they play for each other, they set screens for each other. You saw that at the start of the fourth quarter when they went on that run, and we just couldn’t fight our way back at the end.”
Early in the fourth, LeVert took the baton from Dinwiddie as the Nets took the lead. “I just stayed aggressive,” LeVert said. “For me, they were going under screens, and I took what the defense gave me.”
Dinwiddie attributed the comeback to improved defense. “We tried to tighten the screws and, fortunately, we got enough stops and then we converted on the other end,” Dinwiddie said.
Obviously, it was a much closer game than the 39-point blowout the Nets scored over the Mavericks Monday night, but there was some similarity in the fourth-quarter numbers. The Nets had a 20-2 run against the Mavs and then the 22-5 run against the Cavs.
Asked if the Nets have found something since Atkinson paired Dinwiddie and LeVert on the second unit while going with Russell and Allen Crabbe as starters, Dinwiddie said, “I think being a young group and finally getting healthy, we’re going to continue to find ourselves. It’s been an exploratory process this whole season, and we’re hopefully entering the final phase of that. We can tighten the screws and get to where we need to go the last  games and be a force in the playoffs.”