CLEVELAND -- They had overcome numerous injuries, trade rumors and talk of an eventual breakup for months. So with their season on the line, the New Jersey Nets did what they've always done.
"This has been the makeup of this team," Jason Kidd said. "We were counted out."
On Wednesday night, they got up off the mat again.
Kidd scored 20 points and the Nets delayed an early summer vacation with an ugly 83-72 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers to pull within 3-2 in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Doomed by an inability to execute down the stretch in this series, the Nets built a 22-point lead in the third quarter and then hung on for dear life -- scoring just six points in the fourth quarter -- to force a Game 6 on Friday night in East Rutherford, N.J.
"It goes back to the All-Star break," Kidd said. "No one thought we were going to make the playoffs. We all believe in one another and support each other in good times and bad."
How the Nets won was nothing short of a miracle.
New Jersey made one field goal in the fourth quarter on 1-of-15 shooting. The Nets were also only 4-of-10 from the free throw line in the final 12 minutes, with Kidd missing five foul shots in the last 56 seconds.
"The fourth quarter wasn't pretty," Kidd said. "Both teams were on fire defensively, not on the offensive side."
Cleveland, which blew a chance to close out a series for the first time at Quicken Loans Arena, wasn't much better in the fourth, shooting just 3-of-17 and scoring 13. The Cavaliers played the last 56 seconds without LeBron James, who hurt his right knee while scrambling for a loose ball with Kidd.
James' knee isn't his only worry. His girlfriend, Savannah Brinson, who is expecting the couple's second child next month, required medical attention and was taken to a hospital at halftime.
"I think she's OK," James said. "From the little information I have, she's doing fine."
Richard Jefferson added 15 points, Mikki Moore 14, Bostjan Nachbar 13 and Vince Carter 12 points with 10 assists for the Nets. Carter took only 11 shots, one game after going 6-of-23 and making a costly turnover in the final seconds of Game 4.
"I took what the defense gave me and made plays," Carter said. "I didn't want to force anything."
"I laid an egg, there's no two ways about it," said Hughes, was booed by the sellout crowd. "I can't go out there and play like that and expect us to win."
Down 77-59 entering the fourth, the Cavs, trying to get to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1992, upped their defensive pressure and trimmed New Jersey's lead to 79-70 on a 3-pointer by Hughes -- a basket that drew a loud but somewhat sarcastic cheer from Cleveland's crowd.
The Nets missed their first 10 shots of the quarter before Carter finally dropped a 12-foot jumper to make it 81-70 with 4:07 left. James scored on a layup to get Cleveland within nine again, but after Kidd missed a 3-pointer, Cavs rookie Daniel Gibson was called for a charge with 1:39 left.
Carter split a pair of free throws with 1:04 left, and a few seconds later James cut his right knee on a chair while diving into Cleveland's bench.
Kidd had a chance to extend New Jersey's lead but couldn't, missing four consecutive free throws to keep the Cavs within 10. But with James watching from the sideline, no one stepped up and Cleveland will now have to figure out a way to win again on the road or face a Game 7 on Sunday.
"I still feel upbeat, we're still up 3-2," James said. "It's just basketball for me. I've got a family to worry about. We've won in New Jersey and we've got an opportunity to do it again."
Late in the fourth quarter, an exasperated Nets coach Lawrence Frank walked over to the scorer's table and asked, "What are we shooting in the fourth?" Told the numbers, he shook his head and chuckled slightly. "Sometimes you have to get a little lucky," he said. "So we were fortunate."
The Nets were already up by 10 when tempers flared in the third quarter following another run-in between Cleveland's Sasha Pavlovic and Moore. On a drive to the hoop, Moore was hammered across the arms and sent sprawling by a trailing Pavlovic, who was whistled for a flagrant foul.
Moore, who called his two-handed shove of Pavlovic in Game 4 "a little love tap," got up and hit both free throws before Kidd followed with a 3-pointer, giving the Nets a 56-41 lead.
Moore's jumper with 57 seconds built New Jersey's lead to 22, and the Nets made plans for another home game despite a forgettable fourth quarter.
"We've got nothing to lose," Frank said.
- New Jersey's six points in the fourth were one more than the all-time low. Portland managed just five points in a May 18, 1999, game against Utah.
- Nachbar made three 3-pointers in a one-minute stretch of the first.
- Only eight of 170 teams have won a playoff series after trailing 3-1.
- Dallas Cowboys star Terrell Owens attended the game as a guest of Cavs G Damon Jones. Owens sat a few seats down from Browns WR Braylon Edwards, who pledged $1 million in scholarships to Cleveland high school students on Wednesday.