Nets Score Six Fourth Quarter Points--and Still WinDespite a fourth quarter performance that set offensive basketball back five decades to the pre-shot clock era, the New Jersey Nets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 83-72 in Game Five of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Nets are one home win away from tying the series and forcing a seventh game in Cleveland on Sunday. Jason Kidd led the Nets with 20 points on 8-14 shooting, adding nine rebounds and six assists. Vince Carter shot less often but more accurately than he did earlier in the series, finishing with 12 points, a game-high 10 assists and six rebounds. Mikki Moore again made a solid contribution--14 points and six rebounds--while Richard Jefferson had 15 points and eight rebounds. Jefferson had nine of his points in the third quarter when the Nets blew the game open. LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 20 points and nine rebounds but he shot just 5-14 from the field; he had five assists but also committed five turnovers. Zydrunas Ilgauskas was the only other Cav to score in double figures--16 points on 6-8 shooting. It certainly seems like he should be getting more touches, particularly when you consider that Larry Hughes took more shots than anyone on either team but scored just seven points, connecting on just three of his 17 field goal attempts; the sellout crowd of 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena frequently booed Hughes, which is something that I've never understood. I mean, it's not like he's missing on purpose or not playing hard; how does it help the home team's chances when the fans boo every time a certain player shoots? I could understand it if a road crowd heckled Hughes by yelling "airball!" or something like that, but booing your own player for missing shots seems stupid to me.
Cleveland looked sluggish right from the start, trailing 24-18 by the end of the first quarter. James shot 0-2, scoring two points, and Hughes went 1-5. Bostjan Nachbar nailed three straight three pointers, which affected how the Cavaliers played defensively the rest of the way according to Cleveland Coach Mike Brown: "Bostjan hitting those threes really opened the floor for them and gave us some problems. We didn't want to leave (him open after that) and (that) allowed them to get easy baskets in their pick and roll action." Kidd also got off to a quick start, scoring seven points on 3-5 shooting and dishing three assists.
Ilgauskas had 10 points on 4-4 shooting in the second quarter but the Nets still outscored the Cavs 23-21 to take a 47-39 halftime lead. Hughes was 1-12 from the field by that point and was already "hearing it from the crowd," as Marv Albert might say--and definitely not "hearing it" in a good way. The Nets shot 12-18 (.667) in the third quarter, pushing their lead to 74-52 before a mini-run cut it to 77-59 at the end of the period. Kidd shot 4-4 for 10 points.
The Nets were rolling, the Cavs were sinking--and then came perhaps the strangest, ugliest fourth quarter in NBA playoff history. If you don't believe that, check out these numbers: the Nets shot 1-15 from the field and scored just six points, one point better than the all-time shot clock era low set by Portland on May 18, 1999 versus Utah. They made just four of their 10 free throws, with Kidd missing five straight in the last minute of play. It would seem impossible for Cleveland not to come back and win given those statistics--but the Cavs shot 3-17 from the field and managed to put up just 13 points; the 19 total points by both teams is an all-time playoff low for a quarter and the Nets are the first team in the shot clock era to win a playoff game despite scoring as few as six points in a quarter.
Jason Kidd had a humorous explanation of what transpired in the final 12 minutes: "The fourth quarter wasn't pretty. Both teams were on fire defensively, not on the offensive side." Apparently, Cleveland's "free throw defense" against Kidd was also top notch. While watching this fiasco unfold, I thought that the shooting displayed all the delicacy and artistry of someone attempting to put a medicine ball into a tea cup. It might have been excruciating to watch but this was a big win for the Nets. Now they have the same opportunity that Chicago does in the other Eastern semifinal series against Detroit: winning at home in Game Six will put an awful lot of pressure on the favored team to win at home in Game Seven. Game Sevens on the road are usually death in the NBA but the Nets are a veteran team so at this point a series that Cleveland seemed to be firmly controlling is now very much up for grabs. Further complicating matters for the Cavs is that James suffered a bruised knee and a cut on his leg while diving out of bounds in a late game scramble for a loose ball. James did not play in the final :56, but all indications are that he will be available for Game Six.
Notes From Courtside:
Prior to the game, one of the main topics of conversation was the suspensions handed down to Phoenix' Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the vicinity of the bench during the altercation that happened near the end of Game Four of the Spurs-Suns series. James is not at all concerned that any Cavalier players will make a similar mistake, noting that no one left the Cavaliers' bench after Mikki Moore's flagrant foul on Sasha Pavlovic in Game Four: "Everybody knows how to react if something goes down. If you're not in the game, then just be cool and we'll take care of it on the court." Asked if the NBA should change the rule, James said, "Definitely--but at the same time, it's a rule and you have to respect that. Everyone knows that if something is going on on the court that you might not like it but you have to stay on the bench. I know that it's a (natural) reaction but at the same time you have to second guess yourself and know that you can't leave the bench...It's a rule and you can't fault the NBA (for suspending Stoudemire and Diaw)."
During his pregame standup, I asked Coach Brown, "What did you say to the team in light of the suspensions of Amare and Diaw, in terms of what the team should do if anything happens on the court during the game?" Brown smiled and offered a succinct reply: "Don't leave the bench--simple as that."
It does seem pretty simple, actually. James and the other Cavs seem pretty clear on how to act, as did most of the Spurs and Suns; so if people want to focus critical attention somewhere then it should be directed at Stoudemire and Diaw, who disobeyed an easy to understand rule that has been consistently enforced--including during previous playoff series. They have no one but themselves to blame. Even if the NBA later changes or gets rid of this rule--which I doubt will happen--that does not alter the fact that all Stoudemire and Diaw had to do was, literally, nothing and then they would have been able to play in Game Five.
While Jessica Alba has yet to be seen at a Cavs game there were some notable personalities on hand at Game Five, including former Cavs All-NBA guard Mark Price, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens and Jake (as in, "Body by Jake").
posted by David Friedman @ 7:40 AM