EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—LeBron James’ shot was back, and New Jersey’s Big Three was missing.
That combination has the Cleveland Cavaliers on the verge of their first Eastern Conference finals in 15 years.
James had 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and the Cavaliers beat the New Jersey Nets 87-85 in Game 4 on Monday night.
Cleveland made the last of its two conference finals appearances in 1992. The Cavs fell one win short last year, dropping the final two games to Detroit in the Eastern semifinals.
“We definitely learned a lot from winning the series last year to losing the series,” James said. “It helped us in the postseason. This is a tough environment to win in. Now we have a chance to close it out at home. We know it’s not going to be easy.”
Carter had 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, but shot 6-for-23 from the field. Kidd wasted his career playoff-high 17-rebound performance by shooting 2-for-13 and scoring five points, while Jefferson had 15 points but was only 3-of-12 from the field.
All three scored 23 points in Game 3, but the Cavs’ never let New Jersey play its preferred pace Monday. The Nets had only four fast-break points, 16 fewer than they did two nights ago.
“We tried to make them take tough shots, but they’re three extremely talented players,” Cavs guard Eric Snow said. “We tried to make it tough for them, and on any given night, they are bound to hurt you.”
New Jersey had only three field goals in the fourth quarter and couldn’t even get off a shot that would have tied it. With Snow defending him, Carter lost the ball out of bounds with 1.9 seconds left and the Nets trailing by two.
“Put the ball in my hands to make plays and that’s what I want to do,” Carter said. “That one I take hard, it’s on me. This is an important time of year, so every play counts for us.”
Mikki Moore kept New Jersey in it with a career playoff-best 25 points. He had two of the Nets’ three baskets in the fourth quarter, when the Big Three were a combined 1-for-13.
But he also committed a flagrant foul that fired up James and the Cavs, who held the Nets to 36 percent shooting.
“Just losing is going to give you a bitter taste, but we haven’t lost our fight,” Moore said. “We lost the first game like that and this game like that. We know we can compete with these guys.”
The Nets will now try to become the ninth NBA team to erase a 3-1 deficit, but that won’t happen unless they clean up their miserable play from down the stretch.
“We are our biggest enemy,” Moore said. “We always down the stretch get turnovers or bad shots or whatever. We’re all right, we just have to win the rest of the games.”
Moore battled foul trouble, even picking up the flagrant when sent Sasha Pavlovic to the floor in the third quarter. He was on the bench for much of the final period, when the Nets couldn’t manage another field goal after his three-point play gave them a 76-75 lead with 6:58 to play.
Carter hit two more free throws to increase the lead to three, but Pavlovic made two free throws and a fast-break layup to give the Cavs the lead for good with 4:51 remaining.
James bounced back after he was held to 18 points, his lowest in a playoff game, in New Jersey’s Game 3 victory. He shot 5-of-16 in that game, but was 9-of-16 Monday while playing 46 minutes.
“LeBron is a great player,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “He knows what he has to do. I am proud of what he did at both ends of the floor.”
James didn’t attempt his first shot until nearly 7 1/2 minutes into the game. He made that, but it was his only attempt of the first quarter, which ended with New Jersey leading 20-19.
James started quickly in the second, scoring eight points in the first 2 1/2 minutes and giving the Cavs a 27-24 lead when he powered his way to a three-point play on the fast break. But he came out moments later, and the Nets scored seven in a row in the brief time he was on the bench.
The Nets led by eight early in the third and were up four when Moore got the flagrant foul. Pavlovic quickly rose and got in Moore’s face, picking up a technical. The Cavs ran off a 14-3 spurt to open a 60-53 lead on a jumper by James.
“It definitely fired me up as an individual,” James said. “I wanted to make a statement and I was able to do that in the third.”
The Nets tied it at 69 when Kidd made a 3-pointer for his second basket of the game, but Drew Gooden made two free throws for a 71-69 Cleveland lead going to the fourth.
Magic Johnson, the only player with more postseason triple-doubles than Kidd, was seated courtside. Johnson had 30 triple-doubles in the playoffs. Kidd had his 11th in Game 3. … Cavs reserve F Donyell Marshall played despite hurting his left ankle when he stepped on another player’s foot in the closing minutes of Game 3. … The Nets had their 10-game home winning streak snapped.