Triple Double Trouble: Kidd Carries Nets to Game Three WinJason Kidd notched his 11th career playoff triple double (23 points, 14 assists, 13 rebounds), helping the Nets to a 96-85 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Kidd moved past Larry Bird and now trails only Magic Johnson (30) for most career playoff triple doubles. The Nets' biggest problem during the first two games in Cleveland was a huge rebounding deficit but New Jersey won the battle of the boards 43-30 this time, with their "big three" perimeter trio of Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson nearly matching the Cavs' rebounding by themselves. Carter and Jefferson scored 23 points each, though neither of them could match Kidd's shooting (8-12 from the field, 5-6 on three pointers) or his fantastic floor game; Carter shot 8-19 and had six rebounds and four assists, while Jefferson shot 8-17 and contributed eight rebounds and three assists. Larry Hughes led Cleveland with 23 points (yes, four players scored 23 points in this game) but number 23, LeBron James, had perhaps the worst playoff game of his young career, scoring less than 20 points for the first time in his 20 postseason games. More significant than his point total was his 5-16 shooting, including 1-5 from three point range; James did have 12 assists and six rebounds but he was not able to put his stamp on this game even though the Cavaliers got as close as four points during the fourth quarter.
New Jersey set the tone right from the start, opening the game with a 15-4 run. By now, it should be pretty clear to everyone that no matter what happens in the first two games of a series things can change when the series shifts venues; role players perform much better at home and sometimes even stars do as well (contrast the numbers that James and Carter put up in Cleveland versus their Game Three statistics). That does not necessarily mean that "momentum"--a favorite buzz word among broadcasters--has truly been gained or lost. Playoff series between good teams are usually not going to end in sweeps, so the eventual loser is likely going to obtain a win or two and may even have a blowout victory if things break just right.
Cleveland withstood the initial onslaught very well and even took the lead, 38-37, in the second quarter. The Nets were back on top, 45-43, by halftime. Kidd, Carter and Jefferson scored the first three baskets of the second half and then Mikki Moore added a layup as the Nets pushed their advantage to 53-43. Hughes briefly stemmed the tide with back to back jumpers but then Kidd, Carter and Jefferson combined to score the Nets' next 17 points as New Jersey maintained a double digit lead (70-55). Cleveland ended the third quarter with a 9-3 run and the Cavs trailed 73-64 going into the fourth quarter. The Nets endured some nervous moments when Carter missed the latter part of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter due to a left hand injury that he suffered in a loose ball scramble; they were only up 77-70 when he returned to action, but Carter soon nailed a jumper and then scored on a fast break dunk that was set up by Kidd's defensive rebound and brilliant length of the court pass. That dunk put New Jersey ahead 83-73 and Cleveland never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
The Nets are a veteran team that may very well be able to tie this series at 2-2 by capturing another home win but in order to advance they are going to have to figure out a way to perform better on the road, where they only have one playoff victory this year. Expect James to bounce back with 30-plus points in Game Four; if the Nets get complacent after this home win it could be their last victory of the year.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:02 AM