The Cavaliers are becoming a fourth-quarter team, but that is not a compliment. The trend lately has been that the snooze alarm doesn't go off until the fourth.
Last night, for the third time in eight days, the Cavs stormed back from a huge deficit. And once again it wasn't enough, as they fell to New Jersey 91-89 at Gund Arena.
``I read 'em the riot act after the game,'' Cavs coach John Lucas said.
Lucas looks every day at the NBA standings. He sees W for wins. He sees L for losses. He does not see M for morale victories.
The Cavs on Dec. 19 at Boston battled back from a 23-point deficit to get within three points in the final minute but lost. The Cavs last Saturday against Indiana overcame a 14-point deficit to close within two in the final minute. Last night, they trailed by as many as 25 points in the third quarter and 13 in the fourth before getting within two on three occasions in the final 1:26.
``We couldn't get anything going until late in the game,'' Lucas said. ``That's what bad teams do. It looks like it's a good game at the end and you say, `Oh, you got a chance to win.' ''
Lucas, who called what he saw last night ``garbage,'' was most displeased with what happened after the Cavs got the ball back with 30 seconds left and down 89-87. During the next 26 seconds, the Cavs (11-17) didn't take a timeout nor did they get the ball into the hands of guard Wesley Person, the team's best shooter.
``We've got to get smarter,'' Lucas said.
First, guard Ricky Davis missed a 19-foot jumper. Point guard Andre Miller got the rebound and missed an off-balance baseline jumper. Forward Chris Mihm missed a tip, but Miller got the rebound.
Miller passed to forward Jumaine Jones on the right side. Person was open on the other side, but Jones didn't see him and missed a 3-pointer.
``I thought I had a good look, but Wesley had a better look,'' said Jones, who had a career-high six blocked shots. ``I didn't see Wesley until after I shot it. When you have a guy who's one of the best shooters, you want him to take the last shot.''
The Nets (17-9) then had no problem finding their best player. They got the ball into the hands of point guard Jason Kidd, who was fouled. He locked up the game by hitting two foul shots with 3.4 seconds left.
With Nets forward Kenyon Martin serving a one-game suspension, Kidd had a phenomenal outing with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists. Kidd, who shot 11-of-21, scored the Nets' last nine points, including a pivotal 3-pointer that put the Nets ahead 89-84 with 1:08 left.
``I like to have the ball at the two-minute mark,'' he said. ``I would like to have it in my hands to decide if we're going to go down or if we're going to win. Hopefully, I'll make the shots.''
Put a hold on any talk of Miller trying to get to Kidd's level as he again was outclassed in their matchup. Miller had 13 assists but shot 6-of-17 for 14 points.
``To be compared to Jason Kidd is a compliment,'' Lucas said. ``But right now, New Jersey is 3-0 against our team, and Jason Kidd has been the difference in all three games.''
With forward Lamond Murray out with a bad back, Lucas tried to make a difference by inserting 7-foot-3 center Zydrunas Ilgauskas into the starting lineup. Ilgauskas, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes in what Lucas called an ``average'' performance, did make his presence known by scoring four points in the first 6:30 as the Cavs took a 13-4 lead.
For the next two quarters, though, nobody could help the Cavs. They were outscored 60-26 during a stretch that led to the Nets taking a 64-39 lead with 9:10 left in the third.
``We were sluggish,'' Davis said. ``We need to jump on it from the beginning. We weren't together as a team.''
It didn't help matters that Davis had a brutal first three quarters, scoring two points. He was so bad that Lucas actually played Trajan Langdon in front of him.
But everything changed in the fourth quarter when Davis shot 4-of-5 for eight points. He was so confident that he waved Mihm to get out of the way so he could drill a jumper.
``Luke just called a few plays for me, and I got myself back together and helped the ballclub,'' Davis said.
Davis helped the Cavs make an impressive second-half run. Trailing 84-73 with 4:40 left, they went on an 11-2 run to get within two, at 86-84, on a layup by Mihm with 1:26 left.
But it turned out to be another sequel to which Lucas gave thumbs down.