Nets cool Heat

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MIAMI (AP) – By any standard, the Miami Heat made a huge closing run. It still wasn’t nearly enough to overcome three quarters of miscues and missteps against the New Jersey Nets.

Vince Carter scored 27 points, Jason Kidd added 22 and Richard Jefferson had 20 before leaving the game with an ankle injury as the Nets saw most of a 28-point third-quarter lead vanish before hanging on to beat the Heat 100-88 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday night.

Dwyane Wade scored 25 points for Miami, which got 20 points and 10 rebounds for Shaquille O’Neal – who was not effective until late, sitting most of the first half with foul trouble.

Cliff Robinson’s 3-pointer with 9:53 left gave New Jersey an 89-65 lead, and many fans who booed the Heat on at least three occasions continued a steady stream up the stairs and into the Miami night.

They missed a valiant comeback, one that ended in vain.

Miami rallied with an 18-3 run over the next 5 minutes. O’Neal had 11 points in the burst, including a putback to close the run with 4:21 left that drew Miami within 92-83.

But Carter answered with five straight New Jersey points, and Kidd delivered a backbreaking jumper with 1:56 left to restore a 13-point lead and slam the door on Miami.

Nenad Krstic added 11 points for New Jersey, which got nine rebounds and seven assists from Kidd. Udonis Haslem had 10 points for Miami.

The tone for this one was set early. O’Neal won the opening tip-off, and Williams made an open layup 10 seconds later to give the Heat the lead.

Until the fourth, that was about the only moment where the home crowd could cheer.

New Jersey used a 12-0 first-quarter burst to build its cushion, then a 13-0 run in the third quarter to take firm control – and take away home-court advantage from the Heat, who swept the Nets in the last season’s opening playoff round but have now lost the last four meetings with New Jersey by an average of 11 points.

By the midway point of the first quarter, the outcome looked all but decided. O’Neal was on the bench with two quick fouls, the Heat were turning the ball over on more than half their possessions, and the Nets simply wouldn’t miss.

Jefferson – who left in the third quarter – was 4-for-4 for 11 points in the first 3:55, staking New Jersey to an 18-5 lead. X-rays on Jefferson’s ankle were negative and he left the arena in a walking boot.

Kidd, who shot 29 percent in the Nets’ first-round win over Indiana, hit his first six shots. And oddly enough, the only Nets starter who didn’t go offensively bonkers early was Carter – who averaged 38.5 points against Miami in the regular season, but was only 3-for-7 in the first quarter.

Didn’t matter.

Carter wouldn’t have to beat the Heat single-handedly; Miami provided plenty of help.

Here’s how bad things went early for the Heat: They missed only two shots in the game’s first 71/2 minutes, and were still down 26-13 at that point. Miami had nine turnovers in the early going, which New Jersey happily turned into 14 points that helped it seize quick control – to the delight of Nets minority owner Jay-Z, watching from courtside with girlfriend Beyonce.

O’Neal was benched by foul trouble 4:57 into the game, following a no-point, two-charge, three-turnover effort. Without him, the Heat turned almost exclusively to Wade for points and he delivered, getting 20 by halftime – but it simply didn’t matter, since the Nets were leading 64-46 at intermission.

Miami showed some signs of life in the third quarter, getting within 15 with 9 minutes left in the period when Haslem hit a 16-footer. But O’Neal picked up his fourth foul on a drive by Carter 25 seconds later, went out of the game again, and Miami just deflated.

Carter and Kidd combined for eight points in the 13-0 run over the next 41/2 minutes, as the Nets’ lead ballooned to 82-54 with 4:12 remaining in the period. And that deficit simply was too much to recover from.

Notes: O’Neal had been 8-0 against New Jersey in playoff games, sweeping the Nets in the 2002 Finals (with the Los Angeles Lakers) and then again with Miami in last season’s first round. … Miami fell to 15-4 in its last 19 playoff home games. … Carter was 15-for-19 from the foul line.

AP-ES-05-08-06 2256EDT

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