CLEVELAND — Don’t be fooled by the final score. Ditto for Kyrie Irving’s point total.
The New Jersey Nets beat the Cavaliers a whole lot worse than 99-96 indicates, leading from start to finish Friday at Quicken Loans Arena and going up 17 with 6:37 left in the game.
A frantic, Irving-led rally that never really had a chance of succeeding made the numbers respectable and helped the rookie finish with a career-high 32 points, but Cavs coach Byron Scott knew that part of the game was largely inconsequential.
“I don’t know if the guys think that we’ve arrived or can’t stand prosperity,” Scott said. “Whatever the case may be, we better understand that every night we better come out ready to play.”
The Cavs (7-11), who allowed the shorthanded Nets (7-13) to make their first four shots and jump to a quick 9-3 lead, trailed 30-20 after one period and were down 14 in the second.
Irving, who had 21 points in the final 6:37 — the Cavs were down 85-68 at that point — and 17 in the last 2:58 of the game, put on a terrific one-man show in the closing moments, but in actuality this was not one of the 19-year-old’s better performances.
“I wasn’t asserting myself throughout the game,” Irving said. “I felt like I was taking some plays off and not being as aggressive as I normally am.”
Things got bad right off the bat, as New Jersey point guard Deron Williams (27 points, 10 assists, 6 turnovers) abused the youngster early, putting up 10 points and five assists in the opening period.
Scott didn’t let Irving attempt to defend Williams in the second quarter, but gave him another shot in the third and the results weren’t much better, as the Nets, who were without centers Brook Lopez and Mehmet Okur and shooting guard MarShon Brooks, built their lead to 16.
“Deron Williams sees a rookie point guard and he’s going to go at his throat,” Scott said. “Deron Williams is a quiet assassin.”
That Irving, who had two assists in 31 minutes, joined veteran Antawn Jamison (20 points, 6 rebounds) as one of Cleveland’s two best players is an indication the night was a team-wide struggle.
Anderson Varejao had four points, two of those coming on a desperation 22-foot jumper that cut New Jersey’s lead to 97-93 with 16.5 seconds left, while fellow starters Anthony Parker and Omri Casspi mustered just eight points apiece.
Ramon Sessions had 11 points off the bench, but like Irving had just two assists and continued his recent trend of not getting Cleveland into any type of offense. Daniel Gibson was 0-for-5 from the field, including 0-for-4 on 3-pointers, and didn’t score.
“Obviously, I’m not happy with the way the game went,” Scott said. “It started from the beginning. I don’t think we came out with the energy we needed.”
New Jersey, which made 11 3-pointers in 28 attempts (.393), got 22 points and six rebounds from shooting guard Anthony Morrow, 18 points and 11 boards from Kris Humphries — the former husband of Kim Kardashian was booed every time he touched the ball — and 11 points and seven assists off the bench from Jordan Farmar.
“We went to sleep a little bit at the end of the fourth quarter,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said, “but I liked the way we played.”
Irving, who was 12-for-20 from the field overall and 8-for-9 in the fourth period, tried to will the Cavs back into the game late. He scored on back-to-back left-handed drives, made 3-of-4 free throws and added two 3-pointers, the last a meaningless one at the buzzer.
The Nets, however, were the better team on this night.
“They played much harder, much longer than we did,” Scott said. “We waited until there were seven minutes left in the game.”
The last rookie to score 21 points in a quarter was Dallas’ Roddy Beaubois on March 27, 2010. The last rookie to score 21 points in the fourth quarter was New Jersey’s Marcus Williams on Nov. 26, 2006.
• The Cavs outscored the Nets 50-26 in the paint and held a 45-35 edge on the boards, but were outscored 33-18 from beyond the arc.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.