A night after getting torched by the Cavaliers’ bench, the last thing the Nets needed was more concern about the depth of their own rotation. The Nets made the trek to Cleveland to play the second half of their home-and-home set missing not only Terrence Williams, who also sat out last night, but also starting power forward Troy Murphy. But New Jersey got strong nights from Devin Harris, Kris Humphries and Anthony Morrow to grab a 95-87 win from the Cavs in Cleveland to snap its five-game losing streak.
Winning time: Humphries’ 17-foot jumper around the six-and-a-half minute mark of the fourth quarter gave the Nets their first lead since the first quarter, but it wasn’t until about two minutes later that they launched the run that would put them up for good. Jordan Farmar knocked down a three, then found Humphries for a breakaway dunk to kick start an 8-0 run to give the Nets a seven point lead they would never relinquish.
How the night was won: The game boiled down to three key performances for the Nets (3-5). Harris set the tone all evening for the offense, repeating what he was able to do last night. The difference tonight was that the damage he did against the Cleveland defense came over 43 minutes rather than the 28 he was limited to last night due to early foul trouble. Once again, Harris’ dribble penetration set up a number of important offensive possessions for the Nets, whether they ended in his converting lay ups and step-back jumpers or finding his teammates for open looks. Morrow was on the receiving end of a number of those passes, knocking down five of his eight 3-point attempts and helping to jump start a Nets offense that was cold through most of the first half.
The most pleasant surprise of the night, however, was Humphries, who got the start at power forward in the absence of Murphy and played a season-high 40 minutes. He made just about every hustle play one could ask for in the paint for the Nets. Humphries’ importance was only further magnified by the struggles of Brook Lopez. The Nets’ center picked up two fouls inside the first two minutes of the game was forced to sit out the rest of the first quarter. Even when he was on the floor, Lopez failed to get it going for the fifth straight night and ended up playing a season-low 19 minutes.
But Humphries was there to pick up the slack and both the 4- and 5-spots for the Nets. He tied a career-high with 18 boards (six on the offensive glass), blocked two shots and teamed with Derrick Favors to form a formidable presence down-low. When the Cavs (4-4) couldn’t score in the paint, they looked outside, but did not enjoy the same success from beyond the perimeter they had the night before. Cleveland followed up a better-than-50 percent 3-point shooting effort last night with a rough 3-for-12 performance tonight. Humphries’ work on the blocks gave the Nets a 48-40 edge in rebounds and allowed them second-chance opportunities on offense on a night where they could only muster 42 percent shooting from the field.
First-half foul trouble, along with the pair of injuries the Nets faced, forced Johnson to extend his rotation deeper than he has all season, calling on Johan Petro, Joe Smith and Quinton Ross to fill in minutes in the second quarter. But a big key to the night was the Nets’ coach sticking with what was working in the second half and limiting his rotation to six main guys – Harris, Morrow, Humphries, Favors, Farmar and Travis Outlaw – down the stretch. The trio of Harris, Morrow and Humphries all played 40 minutes or more, but Johnson was able to get the most out of his limited arsenal by finding quick moments of rest for Harris. Although Lopez did appear briefly in the closing stages of the fourth quarter, Johnson stayed loyal to the successful small-ball lineup of Harris, Farmar, Morrow, Favors, and Humphries to carry New Jersey in crunch time. Ultimately, the Nets were able to do what the Cavaliers did last night in getting a win despite a glaringly sub-par performance from their leading scorer.
Player of the game: Hard not to give it to Humphries, but Harris really carried this team on his back from the word go. He scored 18 of the Nets’ 32 points in a rough first half and was a big factor in keeping Cleveland’s defense off-balance in the second half. He was 10-for-23 from the field and 10-for-14 from the charity stripe for a season-high 31 points to go along with nine assists.
Key stat lines:
- Kris Humphries: 6-of-12 shooting, 13 points, 18 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks
- Anthony Morrow: 8-of-12 shooting, 5-of-8 3-point shooting, 21 points, 6 rebounds
- Jordan Farmar: 12 points, 6 assists, 2 steals
- Brook Lopez: 1-of-5 shooting, 4 points (19 minutes)
- J.J Hickson: 6-of-11 shooting, 15 points, 6 rebounds
- Antawn Jamison: 6-of-12 shooting, 14 points, 9 rebounds
- Ramon Sessions: 14 points, 3 assists
- Ryan Hollins: 4-of-5 shooting, 11 points (13 minutes)
One takeaway from tonight’s game: This was a character- and chemistry-building win for the Nets. Lopez’s ineffectiveness and the absence of two rotation guys would have given them valid excuses if they’d lost this game. They even trailed by double digits in the first half and really could have let this game get away from them after experiencing a handful of cold snaps offensively. But in the end, we saw guys play increased minutes and different roles than they’re used to in order to piece together their first road win of the season. This game also represents Johnson’s finest performance of the season, as he was able to navigate a potentially stormy night from a personnel standpoint to steer the Nets to victory.
Notes: Murphy missed tonight’s game with a foot injury after sitting out the first three games of the season with a back ailment … Mo Williams averaged over 20 points a game in the three games prior to the home-and-home set, but scored just 11 points total on 5-of-23 shooting in the two games against New Jersey … The Nets limited themselves to eight turnovers after committing 12 last night … New Jersey will return home to host the Orlando Magic on Saturday night before hitting the road for a four-game Western Conference swing.