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Nets can’t sneak past Cavs in Cleveland

LeBron caps historic February by foiling Brooklyn’s bid for victory

February 28, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
D’Angelo Russell couldn’t get past or shoot over George Hill when it mattered most Tuesday night in Cleveland as the Nets lost a heartbreaker to the defending Eastern Conference champions. AP Photo by Tony Dejak
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For 47-plus minutes Tuesday night, the Brooklyn Nets were every bit as good as the world’s top player and the Eastern Conference’s perennial champions.

But those final few seconds unveiled the difference between a team hoping to return to the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive year and one trying to avert finishing with the league’s worst record for a second straight season.

D’Angelo Russell capped an otherwise stellar performance with an ill-advised, flailing three-point brick with 20 seconds to play as Brooklyn’s bid for a second win over the Cavaliers this season went down the drain with a 129-123 loss to LeBron James and company in front of 20,562 fans at Quicken Loans Arena.

“Against an elite team like that, your margin of error is so small — and one mistake could cost you the game,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson lamented after his team failed to put together back-to-back wins for the first time since Jan. 19-21.

In a back-and-forth hotly contested game that featured nine lead changes and 25 ties, Russell’s prayer of a shot, which was more of a bid to draw a foul than an actual scoring attempt, proved to be Brooklyn’s death knell.

The 22-year-old guard, who finished with a team-high 25 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals, was boxed into the corner with George Hill, one of the players Cleveland acquired during its trade-deadline makeover, in his face.

Determined to either get to the line or make what would have been a miraculous heave, Russell rose to release while Hill continued to crowd him.

The ugly miss drew no whistle from the official and James, who capped a historic February in which he averaged a triple-double by putting up 31 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, hit two free throws on the other end for a 125-121 Cleveland lead with 17 ticks remaining.

“D’Angelo got it in the corner and Hill gets up into him,” Atkinson said of his perspective on the sequence from the bench. “I’m not going to make a judgment there. I think D’Angelo tried to draw the foul, but it didn’t work out.”

“I’m not going to get into talking about the refs or anything like that,” added Russell, who was clearly peeved as he lay on the hardwood following the game’s decisive play. “I thought it was what it was, the [refs] thought otherwise.”

As heartbreaking as the outcome was, the Nets have to be heartened that they took the three-time defending conference champions down to the wire 24 hours after snapping a season-high eight-game losing streak with a victory over Chicago here in Brooklyn on Monday night.

Caris LeVert shone in just his second game back after missing five contests with a knee injury and concussion, pouring in 18 points off the bench in only 19 minutes. Rondae-Hollis Jefferson, who was shelved for 15 games before returning to the lineup Monday, added 14 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.

Both should help the Nets (20-42) easily surpass last year’s win total (20) over the final 20 games of this campaign, but their efforts weren’t enough to foil James, who didn’t just dominate 2018’s second month, but also became the first player ever to surpass 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists.

“With the long list of so many great players that have come through this league, in the history of this league, for me to be the only [person] in a category, I think it’s pretty cool,” James said.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 22 points, DeMarre Carroll added 16 and rookie Jarrett Allen and Allen Crabbe finished with 13 apiece for Brooklyn, which kicked off a season high-tying five-game road trip with its ninth loss in 10 games.

The Nets, who knocked off the Cavs at Barclays Center on Oct. 25, will get another shot at them here in Brooklyn on March 25. But it’s the one that got away in Cleveland that will haunt them as they move forward on this extended excursion.

“It’s frustrating because we couldn’t find a way to stop them. This was a tough one,” admitted Atkinson, who was readying his squad for Thursday night’s visit to Sacramento.

Nothing But Net: Following their stop in Sacramento Thursday, the Nets will take on the Clippers in Los Angeles on Sunday, head to defending NBA champion Golden State on Tuesday and visit Charlotte next Thursday before returning to Downtown Brooklyn to host Philadelphia on March 11. … Though they have already matched last year’s win total with 20, the Nets are still flirting with the league’s worst record, sitting just two games in front of cellar-dwelling Phoenix (18-44) with 20 games to play. The Nets can’t benefit from finishing with the league’s worst overall record as the Cavaliers own their first-round pick.


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