The New Jersey Nets played three competitive quarters against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the first one was a stinker. Cleveland turned hurried shots and sloppy passes into highlight-reel dunks and pummeled New Jersey into submission.
Cleveland, the NBA’s best team, and New Jersey, the league’s worst team, played their respective roles as the Cavs cruised past the Nets, 111-92.
LeBron James dazzled the crowd in warmups with his own personal dunk show, and he didn’t let up in the game. After soaring for two first quarter slams, James played distributor and got his teammates involved. James posted a near triple-double, collecting 26 points, 14 assists, and seven rebounds.
James made it look easy, too.
“The guy’s amazing,” said Antawn Jamison, talking about his new Cleveland teammate. “I’m on the same team, I’m up and down the court with him, and he’s doing things, I’m like, I’ve got the best seat in the house. It’s good to have a teammate like that as far as the amount of attention that he brings and what he brings to the table.
“[He’s] just so unselfish, doing everything for the sake of the team.”
When James got open in transition, J.J. Hickson and Jamison were the benefactors. In Shaquille O’Neal’s absence, Hickson scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds while Jamison added 19.
Cleveland exploded out of the gate, opening a 31-13 lead when James found Anderson Varejao underneath the basket for an easy layup with 2:10 left in the first quarter.
“It wasn’t what they did, I think it was just us,” said Brook Lopez, who scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. “We weren’t really there and you can’t be going through the motions against guys like that.”
“That deficit killed us.”
James left his mark on the first quarter, scoring or assisting on 27 of the Cavs’ 35 first quarter points. Cleveland held a 35-15 advantage after the first quarter and led by as many as 22 points in the game when Jamario Moon’s dunk gave the Cavs a 43-21 lead.
The Cavs scored 14 fast-break points in the first quarter and shot 61.5 percent from the field. The Nets only managed 15 total points on 23.8 percent shooting.
That first quarter finished the Nets.
“When we give them such a head start, it’s tough to catch up,” Devin Harris said. “You can’t give a team like that easy buckets… a lot of them were pretty much dunks. We can’t give a team like that that kind of confidence to start the game. It’s going to carry over.”
The Nets clawed back, however, trimming the Cavs’ lead to 11 midway through the fourth quarter. Despite trailing by 22 in the third quarter, Terrence Williams’ corner three-pointer brought the Nets to within 94-83. Cleveland went on a 14-3 run, though, and closed out the game.
Williams was one of the few bright spots for the Nets in their blowout loss. The rookie out of Louisville delivered his best LeBron James impression, a career-best performance. Williams scored 21 points, dished out seven assists, and grabbed five rebounds.
Although Williams continues to come off the bench, he made his case for starting.
“I’m just bringing energy, whether it’s chasing down a rebound or making a pass to the extra man, or making plays,” Williams said. “I think what it is, I’m bringing energy to do it regardless. I think that’s what the spark is.
“When I’m out there, I just try to basketball.”
While Williams shot 50 percent from the field, the Nets only converted 39.3 of their field-goal attempts. Cleveland, without O’Neal, also managed to outscore New Jersey 62-42 in the paint.
For the Nets, starters Yi Jianlian scored 14 points and Chris Douglas-Roberts added 10.
New Jersey dropped to 6-54 and the task does not get easier as its next match-up is against the Orlando Magic on Friday night.