CLEVELAND — Mike Miller made his coach look like a genius Friday night.
Miller, showing little rust from missing seven games with a concussion, scored 21 points on seven 3-pointers in his first start of the season, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Brooklyn Nets 95-91.
Cavaliers coach David Blatt’s decision to start Miller, who missed one 3-pointer in eight attempts and played 33 minutes, paid off in a major way. “When the fire is hot, you want to let it burn,” Blatt said. “It was burning tonight.”
LeBron James scored a team-high 22 points and moved into 23rd place on the all-time scoring list, but the four-time MVP credited Miller for the victory.
“He’s a professional guy,” James said. “You know you can always count on him, even when he’s doesn’t make shots. We needed him. He kept us afloat.”
Miller, who was averaging 1.5 points and was 5 for 20 on 3-pointers going into the game, downplayed his role in the victory. “I came here for one thing, and that’s to win games,” he said. “For me to be able to be out there and help is all I care about.”
Miller hit his first three 3-point attempts, and was 5 of 6 from behind arc for 15 points in the first half. He appeared to injure his left ankle late in the second quarter, but waved off the bench and remained in the game.
“I wasn’t coming out of the game,” he said. “I finally got an opportunity to play again.”
James and Miller were teammates in Miami for three seasons, including two championship runs. “His ability to shoot the ball gives us so much more of a dynamic out there,” James said.
“We’ve played a lot of games together,” Miller said. “We’ve been through the biggest moments. We’ve got a trust factor. He’s pretty easy to play with, ask anybody.”
Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins knows how well James and Miller play together. “I thought he was the little guy who was on LeBron’s shoulder who travels with him everywhere he goes,” Hollins said. “He shot the ball great.”
Joe Johnson led the Nets with 26 points. Brooklyn guard Deron Williams limped off the court in the second quarter with a strained right calf and didn’t return. Williams will have an MRI on Dec. 20.
“My calf felt tight in the first quarter and it hurt pretty bad when I landed after making an assist,” Williams said. “I don’t want to miss any games so hopefully the test comes back good.”
Brooklyn cut an eight-point lead to 94-91 on Johnson’s 3-pointer with 41 seconds remaining. The Cavaliers committed a turnover, but Kevin Garnett missed a contested 3-pointer and James split two free throws with 1.3 seconds left.
James passed Charles Barkley on the all-time scoring list with a 3-pointer from the corner in the first quarter. Kyrie Irving added 16 points.
Mason Plumlee scored 14 points while Jarrett Jack added 13 for the Nets, who have lost three straight and six of eight.
The Cavaliers defeated the Nets 110-88 in Brooklyn on Dec. 8, breaking open a close game with a dominating second half in front of Prince William and Kate Middleton.