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Nets battled but LeBron and Cavs too much in the fourth, 121-114

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NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Cleveland Cavaliers came into Brooklyn with an extra incentive to win other than fighting for home court advantage in the playoffs. They own Brooklyn’s pick this year, so every Nets loss is a Cavs gain.

And that’s what happened on Sunday. LeBron James went off and finished with 37 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, propelling the Cavaliers to a 121-114 victory over the Nets in a matinee affair. The Nets battled for three quarters but Cleveland took control in the fourth ... or should we say The King did.

“I thought we did a decent job the first three quarters,” said Kenny Atkinson. “Then 34 points is a lot to five up (in the fourth). That was the difference.”

It was the Joe Harris versus LeBron James show early on, just as you expected. After all, the two are the NBA’s league leaders on shooting percentage in drives to the rim.

Harris played with something to prove against the team that drafted, then traded him, and scored 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting, lifting the Nets to a 62-60 lead at half. The Nets spread the ball well and played a solid 24 minutes with 10 3-pointers made, but James made 22 points and eight assists look all too easy.

Brooklyn led by two entering the fourth, but they couldn’t capitalize when LeBron was on the bench for the first five minutes of the quarter. They were a minus-one during that span.

He checked back in and the Cavs went on a 14-4 run and took a 111-102 lead with a little more than three minutes left. Appropriately, LeBron put the dagger home on a long 3-pointer to go up eight with 37 seconds left. The Cavs outscored the Nets by nine in the fourth.

Harris finished the night with a career-high 30 points and seven rebounds on a career-high six 3-pointers. He is the first Net since Brook Lopez in 2015 to score 30+ points off the bench.

“I just got in the rhythm early. We were moving the ball well and I was able to get room and rhythm looks right off the get-go, knocked down my first couple. It just felt good and I was a little bit more aggressive, hunting into shots,” said Harris after his big night.

“He’s been solid throughout the season. He knows his job. He knows his role. He embraces it,” said Russell of Harris. “He and a few others, they have that job to shoot the ball and space the floor and they embrace that. He does a great job at that.”

The Nets shot 46 percent from three and 46 percent from deep with just 10 turnovers. The problem? They let Cleveland shoot 51 percent and 43 percent from three with just 11 turnovers.

“You can always take something for them - just figure out their coverage on the defensive end and try to attack that, but you’re playing against teams competing for playoff spots and playoff rankings. You can always take something from them,” said Russell after the game.

It seems like teams have adjusted to Brooklyn’s style after playing them once or twice. For most teams, switching has been big because it’s much more difficult for the Nets to get free anywhere on the court -- especially behind the 3-point line. It becomes harder to switch when you have a guy that specializes in cutting off the ball.

LAST TIME IN BROOKLYN...

... The last time these two teams played in Brooklyn was Spencer Dinwiddie’s coming out party. He hit the game winning shot and scored a career-high 22 points in a 112-107 victory over the Cavaliers.

At that point, the Nets were 3-2 playing a much different Cavaliers team. Thing is - no matter how early it was in the season, the Nets showed a little hope. They showed they could hang with other teams. Not much has changed, only the fact that they haven’t exactly closed games out like this.

BACK IN BROOKLYN...

With the Long Island Nets eliminated in the G-League playoff race Saturday night, the Nets recalled Isaiah Whitehead, where he averaged 20 points a game over 30 games for Long Island and a herculean 32 points per contest over the last two weeks (six games) when he was arguably the best player in the G-League.

Also, the Nets two two-way players, Milton Doyle and James Webb III will be available for the rest of the season ... and the Long Island coaching staff, led by Ronald Nored, will be incorporated into the Nets staff.

***

Brooklyn played a stellar game for three quarters, but once again they folded late against the best player in the NBA and one of the best teams in the NBA. Hard to knock them for anything in this one, rather a hat tip to the King for being great, and a hat tip to the 23-51 Brooklyn Nets for making a game of it.

For post-game audio, click here. And for a different perspective on the game, head on over to Fear the Sword.