NEWARK, N.J. -- Frustration looks something like this: With 6 minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the second quarter Tuesday night, Devin Harris took a seat on the bench after picking up his third foul. Reduced to nothing more than a glorified cheerleader, Harris grabbed a towel from a ball boy and threw it to the floor in disgust.
When the New Jersey Nets' starting point guard was in the game -- asserting himself by attacking the paint, getting layups, drawing fouls and feeding his teammates off dribble-drive penetration -- the team was at its best. But when he wasn't on the floor, the offense looked stagnant, in need of a facilitator.
Harris couldn't do that from the bench. He finished with 18 points and six assists in 28 minutes in the Nets' 93-91 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in front of 10,188 at the Prudential Center. But his stat line could have been much better had he not picked up that dumbfounding third foul after he got beat off the dribble by Ramon Sessions and reached in.
"It was my own fault," Harris said. "I had a defensive breakdown and gave up [the] middle. I gave up the foul."
Harris also had two turnovers, one of which involved him throwing a pass intended for Travis Outlaw into the first row. That's not necessarily a big deal. But, because Harris is one of the Nets' top two players along with the struggling but highly skilled Brook Lopez, it is.
"We needed them to play consistently," Nets coach Avery Johnson said of Harris and Lopez after the game. "You see, the thing for Brook and Devin, they can't take too many plays off. We need that level of aggressiveness from them throughout the game. And they can't take five and six minutes off. It's a big responsibility for young players, but they're the best players on our team and we need them to play well in longer stretches."
Somehow, the Nets managed to outscore the LeBron James-less Cavaliers by three without Harris on the floor and trailed by that margin at the half. Held to just six points -- all on layups -- and three assists through the first 24 minutes, Harris began to turn it up a notch in the second half.
He sparked the Nets' third-quarter comeback with a layup and a pair of free throws, and by finding Outlaw for a jumper that made it a two-point game. The Nets eventually took the lead, only to see their perimeter defense let down its guard as the Cavaliers began losing consciousness from beyond the arc.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Harris accounted for a pair of field goals that once again brought his team within one. But over the last 2:30, he disappeared, snagging just one rebound. It wasn't enough.
Now the Nets sit at 2-5, on the verge of falling even further in the standings with the mighty Orlando Magic coming into town and a daunting four-game West Coast road trip to follow.
And some of the blame as to why they're in this precarious position has to fall on Harris' shoulders. Even if his supporting cast isn't all that impressive.
"When I pick up that third foul," Harris said, "I know what kind of bind I'm putting my team into."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.