CLEVELAND: By the time the Cavaliers engaged in Friday’s game against the New Jersey Nets, they trailed by 17 and less than seven minutes remained in the game.
At that point, not even a dazzling shooting display by Kyrie Irving could save them.
Irving had a career-high 32 points, including 17 in the game’s final three minutes, but the Cavs still fell 99-96 to the Nets. Had they been able to extend the game another minute, the Cavs just might have figured out a way to steal a victory.
Instead, they were left with a bitter defeat on a night when the effort was tough to see.
“We gave this game away,” Irving said. “We were lacking a lot of energy. We came out flat. We needed this loss, honestly. It definitely showed us what we need to do going forward.”
Irving entered the game with 6:37 remaining and the Cavs trailing 85-68. He immediately hit a driving layup, but saved his best work for the end of the game.
He got another layup with 2:58 left, trimming the lead to 90-79. He followed that with three more layups, three free throws and two 3-pointers. His 3-pointer at the buzzer did little to change the final score, but it gave him his first career 30-point scoring night. None of that impressed his coach, however.
“We lost the game,” Scott said. “So, no.”
For as good as Irving was offensively, he really struggled again defensively chasing around Nets point guard Deron Williams.
Williams finished with 27 points and 10 assists, but 10 of those points and five of those assists came in the first quarter, when Irving was failing at keeping up with him.
For as harsh as Scott has been on Irving about his defense this season, he gave him a pass Friday because of the opponent. Daniel Gibson spent much of the rest of the night defending Williams.
“You just have a guy in Deron Williams who sees a rookie point guard and he’s going to go at his throat,” Scott said. “Deron Williams is a quiet assassin. He’s going to come right at you, and if you don’t accept the challenge, he’s going to tear you up.”
The Cavs managed just 37 points and shot just 38 percent in the first half. The Nets scored 11 consecutive points late in the second quarter to take a 47-37 lead at the half. That lead remained in double figures until the game’s final two minutes, when Irving’s scoring flurry finally made things interesting.
Anthony Morrow had 22 points for the Nets and Kris Humphries had 18 points and 11 rebounds while battling a stomach virus.
Humphries missed the Nets’ morning shoot-around, but was determined to play when big man Mehmet Okur was ruled out with lower back pain. The Nets were also without rookie shooting guard MarShon Brooks, who averages better than 15 points off the bench, but they didn’t need him.
The victory gave the Nets (7-13) their first winning streak of the season. They won at Philadelphia in overtime on Wednesday.
“They just played harder than we did for a longer period of time,” Scott said. “We got what we deserved.”
Antawn Jamison had 20 points and Ramon Sessions had 11 for the Cavs.
The reserves, who have been so good this season, managed just 24 points Friday. Tristan Thompson returned after missing two games with a sprained left ankle and had five points and three rebounds. Gibson was held scoreless, but exerted most of his energy defending Williams.
“You can’t go through the motions and not guard as hard as you can guard,” Gibson said, “then at the end of the game, think you’re going to chase somebody down. It’s as simple as that.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.