EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Ten seconds of defense by a gimpy Eric Snow has the Cleveland Cavaliers on the verge of their first Eastern Conference final in 15 years.
Snow protected a two-point lead by forcing a turnover by Vince Carter with 1.9 seconds to play and LeBron James rebounded from a sub-par effort with 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in an 87-85 win over the New Jersey Nets on Monday night.
While James' performance in Game 4 is what most people will remember, it was the Cavaliers' defense that put them a win away from their third conference final, and first since 1992.
``We always need LeBron to carry us,'' Cavs guard Sasha Pavlovic said. ``If he stops, we have to do our job. In the playoffs, everyone has to play good if you want to win the game.''
Cleveland got that kind of performance on both ends of the floor to put themselves in position to wrap up the best-of-seven series at home Wednesday night.
In the other playoff game Monday, Phoenix evened its series with San Antonio at 2-2 with a 104-98 victory.
The other conference semifinals resume Tuesday with Detroit at home with a 3-1 lead over Chicago, and Utah at home with the same lead over Golden State.
The Nets shot 36 percent from the field and their big three of Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson connected on 11-of-48 (23 percent), including 1-of-13 in the fourth quarter. They missed layups, jumpers, bank shots and Jefferson even muffed two dunks with the Cavaliers pressing their every attempt.
``We tried to make them take tough shots, but they're three extremely talented players,'' Snow said. ``We tried to make it tough for them, and on any given night, they are bound to hurt you.''
Carter had the final chance to even the series after James hit the second of two free throws to put the Cavs ahead 87-85 with 10.3 seconds to go.
The Nets called time out and called a play for Carter. Cavs coach Mike Brown countered by subbing Snow for center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
``We knew the ball was going to Vince,'' Brown said. ``That's why we brought Eric in. He's our best on-the-ball defender.''
Carter took the inbounds pass and tried to back down Snow at the right elbow of the foul line. The stocky 11-year veteran whose sore ankles and knee require four ice bags after games, stood his ground and waited, knowing Carter wasn't going to back to the rim.
``I was fortunate enough when he had his back to me, before he could make his move, I was able to flick the ball,'' Snow said.
With Larry Hughes coming over to double him, Carter tried to knock the loose ball to Kidd, but he pushed it out of bounds.
``Put the ball in my hands to make plays and that's what I want to do,'' Carter said. ``That one I take hard, it's on me. This is an important time of year, so every play counts for us.''
The Cavs then ran out the clock, moving closer to a conference final that eluded them last year, when they dropped the final two games to Detroit in the Eastern semifinals.
``We definitely learned a lot from winning the series last year to losing the series,'' said James, who was limited to a playoff-low 18 points in the Game 3 loss here on Saturday. ``It helped us in the postseason. This is a tough environment to win in. Now we have a chance to close it out at home. We know it's not going to be easy.''
The two major adjustments the Cavaliers made in Game 4 were slowing the pace and making sure that the Nets big three didn't get open looks at the basket.
If that meant leaving Nets center Mikki Moore alone, it was a price they were willing to pay. Moore did his part for New Jersey, scoring a career-high 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
Carter had 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, but shot 6-for-23 from the field. Kidd wasted his career playoff-high 17-rebound performance by shooting 2-for-13 and scoring five points. Jefferson had 15 points but was only 3-of-12 from the field.
``I'll live with those guys taking those shots any night,'' Moore said.
The Nets will now try to become the ninth NBA team to erase a 3-1 deficit, but that won't happen unless they clean up their miserable play from down the stretch. They had three baskets in the fourth quarter, two by Moore.
``We are our biggest enemy,'' Moore said. ``We always down the stretch get turnovers or bad shots or whatever. We're all right, we just have to win the rest of the games.''
Hughes added 19 points and Ilgauskas had 13 points and 11 rebounds for Cleveland, which used an 11-2 fourth-quarter spurt to take an 86-80 lead with 2:06 to play.
Five free throws by Carter closed the gap to a point with 11.4 seconds to play but the Cavs made all the plays in the closing seconds.
``We can't let up,'' said Drew Gooden, who added eight points and 10 rebounds. ``... We know New Jersey is not going to lay down.''
Suns 104, Spurs 98
Phoenix evened the series by closing the game with a 12-1 run. The Suns, who trailed by as many as 11 points, took the lead for the first time in the second half on consecutive behind-the-back feeds from Steve Nash to Amare Stoudemire that made it 100-97 with 32 seconds to play.
With 18 seconds left, San Antonio's Robert Horry hit Nash with a forearm that knocked him into the scorers' table. Phoenix's Raja Bell tried to get at Horry as did Nash after he got to his feet.
Horry was given a flagrant foul and was ejected. Bell was given a technical foul. A free throw by each team made it 101-98. The Suns kept possession and Nash added another free throw with 16 seconds to go.
Stoudemire led the Suns with 26 points, while Nash had 24 points and 15 assists.
Tony Parker led the Spurs with 23 points and Tim Duncan had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Phoenix.