CLEVELAND — For the second straight game, the Nets dug themselves a double-digit hole. And for the second straight game, they clawed back, this time for a 117-112 win over the Cavaliers on Monday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
The Nets (13-5) erased a 12-point third-quarter deficit, closing with a 20-6 run to flip a 76-64 hole into a two-point edge going into the fourth.
Kevin Durant — back after being held out of Friday’s win to rest his sore shoulder — returned with 27 points, nine assists and six rebounds. He shot just 8-for-19, while James Harden scored just 14 points but added a season-high 14 assists.
But for a change, Brooklyn’s Big 2 had help on the offensive end.
Center LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 points on an efficient 11-for-14 shooting, grabbed 11 boards and had to deal with ex-Net Jarrett Allen. Blake Griffin logged just nine minutes, benched in favor of Aldridge.
The most unexpected lift came from rookie Cam Thomas, who had 11 points in the 20-6 run that got the Nets back in it. It was his first double-digit performance and couldn’t have come at a better time.
Allen — traded in the Harden deal — had 20 points and 15 rebounds.
After taking a 6-4 edge on DeAndre’ Bembry’s layup off a Durant feed two minutes in, the Nets immediately surrendered a 15-5 run.
Ricky Rubio — in the midst of a scoring renaissance, posting career-highs in points, attempts and 3-point percentage — capped the Cleveland run with a driving layup. Brooklyn trailed 19-11 and didn’t mount a serious challenge until well into the second half.
Still trailing 46-43 after a Jevon Carter 3-pointer with 5:27 left in the half, Brooklyn conceded another run. And again, it was Rubio that polished it off.
Rubio’s 3-pointer capped Cleveland’s 9-2 spurt, leaving the Nets in a 55-45 hole with three minutes in the half.
The Nets trailed by 11 at the break, with Durant being defended well by young Cavs forward Dean Wade. And they still trailed 73-64 with 6:55 to go in the third when Garland (24 points and 11 assists) got cracked in the head, briefly leaving.
It was 80-71 before they finally managed to seize some momentum. And, shockingly, it was Thomas who grabbed it for them.
Thomas went on a personal 9-0 run to knot the game. Then his baseline floater put them up 84-82 going into the fourth.
“We knew. We know he’s a scorer,” Bembry said of Thomas. “So he’s obviously a young talent, still growing and getting better, but he’s super confident and we’re confident in him as well.”
It was the latest example of halftime adjustments — even if they’re occasionally only attitude adjustments — working for the Nets. They outscored the Cavs 32-19 in the third quarter, their plus-52 in the third this season tied for fifth-best in the league.
The rest of the evening was tooth-and-nail, tied at 98-all with 5:39 to play, and Allen’s thunderous dunk from Garland put Cleveland up 103-102.
Garland’s 17-foot jumper left the Nets trailing by three. But the Nets mounted a 7-0 run to retake the lead.
Durant knifed through the lane to put Brooklyn up 106-105 with 2:51 left. And after they forced a Rubio turnover, Patty Mills drilled a 3-pointer for a four-point edge with 2:13 remaining.
A slick Durant feed got a cutting James Johnson open for a 113-108 lead with 1:08 to play. The Nets held on from there.