- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

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 to force a Game 6 tomorrow night in East Rutherford, N.J.

“We didn’t fly out to Cleveland to get beat,” Kidd said.

New Jersey made one field goal and scored just six points in the fourth quarter on 1-for-15 shooting from the field. The Nets were also only 4-for-10 from the free throw line in the final 12 minutes. Kidd missed five foul shots in the last 56 seconds when the Nets were trying to put it away.

“The fourth quarter wasn’t pretty,” Kidd said. “Both teams were on fire defensively, not on the offensive side.”

Cleveland, which blew a chance to close out the series on its home floor, wasn’t much better in the fourth, shooting just 3-for-17 and scoring just 13. The Cavaliers played the last 56 seconds without LeBron James, who hurt his right knee while scrambling for a loose ball with Kidd.

James’ knee isn’t his only worry. His girlfriend, Savannah Brinson, who is expecting the couple’s second child next month, required medical attention and was taken to a hospital at halftime.

“I think she’s OK,” James said. “From the little information I have, she’s doing fine.”

Richard Jefferson added 15 points, Mikki Moore 14 and Vince Carter 12 points and 10 assists 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-for-17 from the floor.

“I laid an egg, there’s no two ways about it,” said Hughes, who was booed by the sellout crowd. “I can’t go out there and play like that and expect us to win.”

Down 77-59 entering the fourth, the Cavaliers, 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, Cavaliers 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 Cavaliers 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 Cavaliers forward in the third quarter.

James didn’t appreciate the hard foul and confronted Moore, who before Game 5 said the Cavaliers were overreacting.

“If they want to take offense to a little love tap, that’s their problem,” he said. “It’s a man’s sport. I didn’t try to hurt the boy. The boy went to the basket and I gave him a playoff foul.”

Notes — New Jersey’s six points in the fourth were one more than the all-time low. Portland managed just five points in a May 18, 1999, game against Utah. …

Dallas Cowboys star Terrell Owens attended the game as a guest of Cavaliers guard Damon Jones. Owens sat a few seats down from Browns receiver Braylon Edwards, who pledged $1 million in scholarships to Cleveland high school students yesterday.

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