EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers followed the New Jersey Nets' formula for losing.
They got outrebounded and came up small with the game on the line in a 96-85 loss on Saturday that reduced Cleveland's lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series to 2-1.
``They made plays,'' Cavaliers point guard Larry Hughes said. ``They definitely rebounded the ball and got a lot of help from J. (Jason) Kidd getting in there and rebounding. For the most part, I just think we didn't step up to the plate.''
For all their mistakes and their lack of rebounding, the Cavaliers were right there after James came off an Anderson Varejao screen and hit a 3-pointer to cut New Jersey's lead to 77-73 with 9:48 to play.
They had three more chances to cut the deficit, but that's where they started playing like the Nets did in the first two games of the series in Cleveland. The Cavs didn't score again until Hughes hit a baseline jumper with 4:07 to play.
By that time, New Jersey had an 85-73 lead and the game was all but over.
``It was all about execution,'' said James, who scored a career playoff-low 18 points on 5-of-16 shooting. ``I took a couple of bad shots, couple of turnovers.''
James only had one turnover down the stretch, but the 22-year-old missed his final three shots, the most important was a wide-open 3-pointer with Cleveland still down four points.
His biggest contribution to the offense was 12 assists, but there were too many times where he just seemed to be standing around.
``When it was 77-73, they were in man quite a bit and we just didn't attack,'' Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. ``We held the ball and had a couple of turnovers and then on top of that we took a couple of shots that we probably should not have taken. That was not a good stretch for us.''
Neither was the Cavaliers' rebounding performance. They outrebounded New Jersey 100-69 in the first two games, including 39-12 on the offensive end.
In Game 3, New Jersey held a 43-30 advantage, including 11-5 on the offensive end. It would have been higher had Mikki Moore not been called for two offensive goaltending calls.
``Their backs were against the wall,'' Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. ``They had nothing to lose so they came out and were physical and they kept us off the boards, which was huge for us in the first two games.''
Not only did the Nets keep the Cavaliers off the boards, their ability to rebound allowed New Jersey to get into its transition offense. The Nets had 19 fast-break points in the first two games. They had 20 in Game 3.
``This is their game, this is their type of game tonight,'' Cleveland forward Drew Gooden said. ``It was like a rollercoaster, it was a lot of ups and downs, emotionally and physically. They were the better team tonight.''
New Jersey also made an important adjustment in returning home to the Continental Airlines Arena. Their big men didn't help out as much on defense, relying on Kidd and Vince Carter to stay close to James and Hughes.
Kidd and Carter also dropped into the lane more once the Cavs' shots were in the air, so it seemed that Gooden and Ilgauskas had two men boxing them out all the time.
``I think we concentrated a little too much on helping out and that's what gave them the opportunity to make runs at the basket and rebound,'' Moore said. ``So we stayed at home a lot and boxed out our man a lot. That's what helped a lot.''

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