NEW YORK -- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stood out again.
Only this time his “wow moment” happened on the defensive end of the floor.
It came with 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the third quarter -- against the seemingly unstoppable force named LeBron James.
James moved down the court with a little extra pep in his step on this particular possession, clearly wanting to isolate himself with Hollis-Jefferson.
The Cleveland Cavaliers' superstar had some crafty dribbling moves up his sleeve, but as he drove to the basket, the Brooklyn Nets' tenacious 21-year-old rookie wing defender stayed right with him, ultimately drawing an offensive foul.
“I kind of felt it coming,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “The crowd started to get amped up, and I was like, ‘Yep, it’s about to be a one-on-one situation,’ so you just do what you do, try to cut him off, try to turn him, and it just so happened that I noticed him putting his arm out. He’s a pretty strong guy, so the rest was history.”
In just his second game back after missing the previous 50 due to ankle surgery, Hollis-Jefferson finished with 10 points (eight in the fourth quarter), seven rebounds and three steals in 16 minutes.
It just so happened that there was no vicious, left-handed hammer dunk this time.
“I think [Rondae’s] going to be a really good player for them,” James said.
That Hollis-Jefferson's live-wire performance occurred in a stunning 104-95 upset victory over the Cavs on Wednesday night made it all the sweeter.
Brooklyn (20-51) trailed 92-90 midway through the final period before ripping off 14 consecutive points and a surprising win.
James, who had scored 30 points through three quarters on 13-for-14 shooting, missed both of his shots in the fourth and was held scoreless in the final period. He received little help. Sidekicks Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined to shoot 11-for-36 from the field, while Cleveland scored just 12 points in the fourth as a team on 4-for-21 shooting.
Nets coach Tony Brown had called out his players, saying they needed to play with more spirit, and they responded.
“We had a lot more fight than we’ve shown the last couple of games,” Brown said. “Brook Lopez led us down the stretch. But more than anything, we got defensive stops.”
Before the game, the Nets introduced the logo and jersey of their new D-League team that will eventually be based in Long Island.
“As many of you are probably aware, we’re short one or two draft picks, so this will be a way to develop some other players coming through the D-League,” new GM Sean Marks said.
The good news for Marks is that there are at least some intriguing young pieces already on the roster.
All of them seemed to play a role in this win. Lopez led the way with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Markel Brown (nine points, four rebounds), Chris McCullough (five points, six rebounds) and Hollis-Jefferson also pitched in.
“We had so many people contribute,” said Lopez, who surpassed Vince Carter to move into second place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.
“It’s definitely a different look we’ve had the last few games than from the majority of the season. They gave us an opportunity and we took it.”
Hollis-Jefferson's scoring surge in the fourth came after he airballed a jumper early in the final period.
“Every time I airball a shot or something like that happens, I think about [my childhood idol] Kobe [Bryant] in the playoffs his rookie year,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
“That’s kind of my ‘get over everything’ situation when adversity hits. I’m like, ‘Dude, he was one of the greatest players ever and he airballed shots, so you can’t hold onto that, you can’t let that mess up the rest of your game. The next play, the next possession -- from there let’s lock in, let’s focus in, let’s get to your spots, let’s do that.’
“And when I talked to him in L.A., he said, ‘Fall in love with the mid-range,’ so I think that’s what I’m going to do.”
Hollis-Jefferson planned to go into the gym on Friday’s off day to work with shooting coach David Nurse.
The grind never stops.
The focus might be on the future, but on Wednesday night the young Nets were very much in the present, locking down on D and scoring in the clutch against a tired-but-talented Cleveland team that continues to find itself in turmoil.
It’s certainly something to build on moving forward.