By the modest standards of Continental Airlines Arena,
it was a happening - a mostly full house, two of the NBA's hottest teams and
one of its most dazzling (and marketable) talents. The result was no classic,
but it satisfied the home fans and featured a clinic in versatility by the
in a 96-91 victory.
It was the seventh win in a row for the Nets (16-12), who lead the Atlantic
Division. The Cavs (17-10) also had won six straight entering the night.
"We're getting there," was all Jefferson would say when asked whether the
Nets are a good team yet.
The fact they have gotten this far is a testament to their three-star
system, which proved too much for Cleveland's James Gang.
James did his customary damage, totaling 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight
assists, but Jefferson made him work hard for all of it with his harassing
defense. He also had 28 points, six rebounds and four assists on a night when
the Nets' top scorer, Vince Carter, had both foul and shooting trouble.
Carter did score 21 points, but he shot only 5-for-19 from the field,
seemingly flummoxed by the inside presence of 7-3 Cavs center Zydrunas
Ilgauskas. Jefferson shot 9-for-11 and Jason Kidd had 14 points, nine rebounds
and nine assists.
What is it like having three strong options? "It's fun - for us," Carter
Jefferson guarded James much of the night and held his own. "It's a tough
load," he said. "Both of us play 40-some minutes a night, out there chasing
each other. We are similar in size and athletic ability, so we match up pretty
well against each other. He's just a load."
Said Kidd: "It's very hard. Once he gets the RPMs going, he's probably the
toughest to stop, right there with AI [Allen Iverson]."
The Nets led 89-71 midway through the final quarter. Then the Cavs scored
12 in a row to make a game of it. Two Carter free throws, a Cleveland 24-second
violation and a dunk off an offensive rebound by Carter seemed to stem the
tide, but the Cavs got right back into it with back-to-back three-pointers to
make it 93-89 with 21 seconds left.
It was 94-91 after Eric Snow made a driving layup with 15.9 seconds on the
clock, but Kidd hit two free throws and James missed a three-point try to end
The Nets began sluggishly before an announced sellout crowd of 20,098,
their third of the season, that included Mets manager Willie Randolph. They
fell behind 7-0 but gradually gained control and led by 15 points before
taking a 55-41 edge into halftime.
In one second-quarter stretch, Kidd assisted on consecutive baskets that
led to a total of five points, then added a basket himself on a fast break.
The 7-0 run lifted the Nets to their biggest lead of the half, 53-38.
Jefferson capped an 11-point quarter with a fadeaway jumper near the lane at
the halftime buzzer. The Nets shot 59 percent from the field in the half.
After the Nets briefly took a 16-point lead to start the third quarter,
their offense seemed strangely out of sync, and James led a quick 8-0 run. The
Cavs soon were within six by taking advantage of shoddy Nets shooting, but a
three-pointer from the left corner by Jefferson blunted the threat.
Kidd hit consecutive three-pointers to make it 74-58 with 2:53 left in the
third, then capped the quarter with a backdoor bounce pass to Jefferson, who
drove the baseline and dunked from the far side of the rim.
"The ballgame was they shot 59 percent from the field in the first half,"
James said. "We dug ourselves such a big hole it was tough to come back. Six
out of seven isn't bad."
For the Nets, seven out of seven was better.
Jefferson's big numbers