CLEVELAND - They were right there still hanging with the Cavaliers, defying logic in ways only they can.
The guy who's been their healthiest player, the one who hadn't missed a game all season after a couple of injury-plagued campaigns, strained his right calf in the second quarter, meaning the Nets were minus two of their top three scorers. The team that has all kinds of issues closing things out seemed to be in dire straits, facing a doomsday scenario without the services of its floor general, Deron Williams, who limped off the court and did not return.
Or so one assumed, anyway.
But the Nets showed resilience, staying within arm's length of Cleveland, and even had a chance to send it into overtime. But Kevin Garnett missed a potential game-tying three-pointer on a scramble with 2.8 seconds remaining, foiling the Nets' comeback bid in a 95-91 loss at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night.
Just another typical day in the wacky land of Nets basketball.
Joe Johnson had 26 points to pace the Nets (10-15), but couldn't corral the ball on the possession that led to Garnett's possible tying shot. Mason Plumlee had 14 points and nine rebounds and Sergey Karasev, returning to the starting lineup after missing Wednesday's game in Toronto with a strained left oblique, posted a career-high 12 points against his former team.
LeBron James had 22 points and nine assists for the Cavs (15-10). Mike Miller tossed in 21 points, knocking down 7 of 8 three-pointers.
Williams' injury came on an innocent play. The Nets led 45-39 when Williams threw a simple pass to Garnett in the paint, but he knew something was wrong immediately as he landed with 4:40 remaining in the half, asking out of the game.
He exited and headed to the locker room with team trainer Tim Walsh to get examined, never coming back out onto the court. The Cavs finished the half off impressively, rattling off a 15-4 run to grab a 54-49 edge at the break.
By then, the Nets' usual strong start had evaporated and their 33 first-quarter points were a distant memory, putting them on track to continue that pattern of wilting and succumbing to the opposition.
At the heart of the Nets' issues is an inability to keep things together in the second-half pressure cooker.
They have made 92 turnovers in the fourth quarter this season.
"That's the thing that's troubling to me," Lionel Hollins said before the game. "We get to a certain point in the game, somebody will miss a shot and then they'll go score and we'll come right back and turn the ball over two or three times, and next thing you know, a close game, we are down eight.
"We've just got to avoid those types of mistakes and be stronger and just try to say, OK, we made one mistake, let's not make another one. Let's go get us a good shot."