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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Moore is not Enough: Cavs Take 3-1 Lead Over Nets

Mikki Moore scored a career playoff-high 25 points on 11-14 shooting but he also delivered a flagrant foul that seemed to rouse a previously dormant Cleveland Cavaliers team and perhaps propelled them to an 87-85 victory over the New Jersey Nets. The Nets now must win three straight games--starting with Game Five in Cleveland on Wednesday--to avoid elimination from the Eastern Conference semifinals. LeBron James had 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for Cleveland. He shot an excellent 9-16 from the field but just 10-15 from the free throw line, including two misses in the last 3:32 that could have been costly; in the last 1:09, he shot 1-2 from the free throw line and missed both of his field goal attempts. The Nets let him off the hook by shooting 27-75 (.360)--take out Moore's numbers and that drops to an amazingly horrid 16-61 (.262), which would earn boos as a batting average. The bulk of the shots--and misses--came from the Nets' big three perimeter trio of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson, who bricked their way to 2-13, 6-23 and 3-12 performances respectively. Kidd and Carter had strong floor games but nothing can make up for missing that many shots. Kidd had seven assists, just one turnover and a playoff career-high 17 rebounds, becoming just the fifth guard in the past 30 years to have at least 17 rebounds in a playoff game. Carter had nine rebounds and a playoff career-high nine assists.

The lead went back and forth for most of the first half. James scored ten straight Cleveland points from the end of the first quarter through the beginning of the second quarter but that was only good enough to give the Cavs a 27-24 lead after they trailed 20-19 at the end of the first quarter. New Jersey led 46-42 at halftime and Moore was the unlikely top scorer for the Nets with 14 points, while James had 16 for the Cavs. New Jersey was ahead 50-46 at the 8:48 mark of the third quarter when Moore committed a flagrant foul on Sasha Pavlovic as Pavlovic drove to the hoop. Pavlovic received a technical foul after he jumped up and went after Moore--standard NBA procedure in such instances, though nothing really happened between the two other than some talking. Jefferson made the technical free throw and Pavlovic split his pair of free throws. The Cavs retained possession because of the flagrant foul and Zydrunas Ilgauskas nailed a jumper to pull Cleveland to within 51-49. A little more than two minutes later, the Cavs were up 60-53. New Jersey rallied to tie the score at 69 after a Kidd three pointer and even took the lead briefly during the fourth quarter but they never were able to match the four point advantage that they held prior to the Moore-Pavlovic play. Obviously, that one play did not decide the outcome of the game since both teams had a chance to win at the end, but it was pretty obvious that the Cavs played with more fire and determination after the flagrant foul than they did before it.

Cleveland led 86-80 with 2:06 left in the fourth quarter but shot 0-3 from the field and 1-2 from the free throw line the rest of the way, leaving the door open for New Jersey to win the game. Carter made five out of six free throws but he also committed two turnovers, including the decisive one on the Nets' final possession. They had the ball with :10 left and ran an isolation play for Carter, who was guarded by Eric Snow. Carter tried to back him down from the free throw line extended but he lost the ball out of bounds as Snow held his ground and Larry Hughes flicked at the ball.

This was not a pretty win but it placed the Cavaliers on the brink of their first Conference Finals appearance since 1992.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:54 AM

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