CLEVELAND — LeBron James still remembers Mike Miller’s Game 5 performance in the NBA Finals in 2012, when Miller made seven 3-pointers against the Oklahoma City Thunder to clinch James’ first championship in Miami. The stakes weren’t nearly as high Friday, but Miller and James still look terrific playing together in starting roles.
Miller scored 21 points — again on seven 3-pointers — in his first start of the season and the Cleveland Cavaliers held on for a 95-91 victory Friday night over the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets had a chance to tie, but forward Kevin Garnett missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds after guard Joe Johnson couldn’t get a clean look at a 3.
Cavs forward James split two free throws with one second left to finish it.
James had 22 points and nine assists, guard Kyrie Irving had 16 points and four assists and forward Kevin Love added six points and 14 rebounds on a night when all three of the Cavs’ stars struggled offensively. Love made just 1 of 10 shots from the field, but Miller was there to bail them all out.
“He kept us afloat tonight with his ability to shoot the ball,” James said. “It makes me feel good to see my teammates succeed. What he did in the Finals to clinch my first championship, that meant more to me than anything. He’s huge.”
Johnson had 26 points, including two big baskets in the final minute to keep the Nets within reach. Mason Plumlee had 14 points and nine rebounds, but the Nets lost for the sixth time in their last eight games.
The Nets, already without All-Star center Brook Lopez, lost guard Deron Williams early in the second quarter with a strained calf. He did not return.
Johnson thought he was going to have a good look to tie the game and perhaps force overtime, but the Cavs changed their defensive coverage and forced Johnson to relinquish the ball.
“I had two (defenders) on me so I just tried to make the next pass,” Johnson said. “The pass that I was trying to make to KG, I think LeBron tipped it. We gave ourselves a chance. But in the fourth quarter, starting with me, turnovers killed us.”
The Nets turned the ball over five times in the fourth quarter and managed just 58 points over the final three quarters.
“We never really got way down,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “We made them have to earn the victory right down to the wire.”
The Cavs were coming off what Cavs coach David Blatt termed an “embarrassing” 29-point home loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Looking for a jolt, he benched Shawn Marion and turned to Miller, who returned after missing seven games with a concussion he sustained two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden.
Miller has struggled miserably with his shot, entering the night just 5 of 20 from 3-point range. His playing time was sporadic the first few weeks, which prevented him from developing any sort of rhythm.
Then he made all three of his 3-pointers in the first quarter and Blatt played him nearly 34 minutes, well above what he was expecting at the start of the night.
“When the fire is hot, you want to let it burn,” Blatt said. “It was burning tonight.”
James, Love and Irving shot a combined 14 of 46, leaving the Nets to key defensively on Miller in the fourth quarter. He didn’t get a shot off, but all of the added attention allowed James to score eight points in the fourth and score three of his seven baskets in the final quarter.
“That’s the biggest thing with a team like this and one thing I learned in Miami: The perception of a shooter is almost more important than actually making shots,” Miller said. “Hopefully I’ve done enough to make people perceive I’m a shooter. That’s really what I’m out there for.”
NOTES: G Mike Miller was moved into the starting lineup in place of Shawn Marion. Cavs coach David Blatt said the Cavs wanted to move Marion to the bench to help limit LeBron James’ minutes. … James passed Charles Barkley for 23rd place on the NBA’s career scoring list in the first quarter on Friday. Barkley had 23,757 points during his career. … Nets G Deron Williams began the night with 70 assists and 19 turnovers in nine December games. His 3.7 assists-to-turnover ratio is second in the league behind Denver’s Ty Lawson this month. … C Mason Plumlee was averaging 18.3 points and 10 rebounds in his last four games.
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