CLEVELAND New Jersey? What exit?
The Nets aren t ready to take the off ramp out of the NBA playoffs just yet.
Jason Kidd scored 20 points and the Nets somehow delayed an early summer vacation with an ugly 83-72 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night to pull within 3-2 in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Doomed by an inability to execute down the stretch in this series, the Nets built a 22-point lead in the third quarter and then hung on for dear life to force a Game 6 tomorrow night in East Rutherford, N.J.
I wanted to let the guys know this series isn t over and we had to come out and put ourselves in a position to win, Kidd said. We came out and had a great start.
How they won was nothing short of a miracle.
New Jersey made one field goal and scored just six points in the fourth quarter on 1-of-15 shooting from the field. The Nets were also only 4-of-10 from the free throw line in the final 12 minutes. Kidd missed five foul shots in the final minute when the Nets were trying to put it away.
Cleveland, which blew a chance to close out the series on its home floor, wasn t much better, shooting just 3-of-17 in the fourth. The Cavaliers played the last 56 seconds without LeBron James, who injured himself tumbling over Cleveland s bench while scrambling for a loose ball with Kidd.
Richard Jefferson added 15 points, Mikki Moore 14 and Vince Carter 12 for the Nets.
We re a veteran ballclub and we ve been in this situation before, Kidd said. Everybody pitched in at some point and we got a big win on the road to force Game 6. We played well. We didn t finish the fourth quarter the way we wanted to. We re just going to let it hang out in Game 6.
James led the Cavaliers with 20 points and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 16, but Larry Hughes gave Cleveland next to nothing, going 3-of-17 from the floor.
Down 77-59 entering the fourth, the Cavs, trying to get to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1992, upped their defensive pressure and trimmed New Jersey s lead to 79-70 on a 3-pointer by Hughes a basket that drew a loud but somewhat sarcastic cheer from Cleveland s crowd.
The Nets missed their first 10 shots of the quarter before Carter finally dropped a 12-foot jumper to make it 81-70 with 4:07 left. James scored on a layup to get Cleveland within nine again, but after Kidd missed a 3-pointer, Cavs rookie Daniel Gibson was called for a charge with 1:39 left.
Carter split a pair of free throws with 1:04 left, and a few seconds later James appeared to cut his right knee on a chair while diving into Cleveland s bench.
Kidd had a chance to extend new Jersey s lead but couldn t, missing four consecutive free throws to keep the Cavs within 10. But with James watching from the sideline, no one stepped up and Cleveland will now have to figure out a way to win again on the road or face a Game 7 on Sunday.
Late in the fourth quarter, Nets coach Lawrence Frank walked over to the scorer s table and asked, What are we shooting in the fourth? Told the numbers, he shook his head and chuckled slightly.
The Nets were already up by 10 when tempers flared in the third quarter following another run-in between Cleveland s Sasha Pavlovic and Moore. On a drive to the hoop, Moore was hammered across the arms and sent sprawling by a trailing Pavlovic, who was whistled for a flagrant foul.
New Jersey s bench erupted at seeing Moore tumble into photographers on the baseline. He got up and hit both free throws before Kidd followed with a 3-pointer, giving the Nets a 56-41 lead. Moore s jumper with 57 seconds built New Jersey s lead to 22.
Along with Carter s costly turnover on the Nets final possession, Game 4 featured the rough foul by Moore, who flattened Pavlovic with a two-handed shove on a drive by the Cavs forward in the third quarter.
James didn t appreciate the hard foul and confronted Moore, who before Game 5 said the Cavaliers were overreacting.