The Denver Nuggets traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to take on LeBron James and the new look Cavaliers on the second night of a back-to-back. The Nuggets were hot from deep from start to finish and drowned the Cavaliers with 19 three-pointers on their way to a 126-117 victory.
After the Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic looked lethargic and failed to make his usual impact in the narrow win over Memphis on Friday night, the question of Paul Millsap’s impact on Jokic’s role in the offense raised itself for the second time this season. Jokic took just five shots in that game and his energy was lacking to say the least. Denver appeared to make an adjustment in the first quarter of Saturday’s game with the Cavs though, as Jokic was active and involved early.
While Jokic didn’t look for his shot in the first quarter, the ball was in his hands often as the offense flowed through him. ‘The Joker’ picked up five assists in about 10 minutes of action and he was much more active on the glass.
The Nuggets were hot from the field, shooting close to 60 percent on the quarter and over 60 percent from deep. Gary Harris was particularly hot and made a huge impact both as a shooter and a defender — highlighted by his manning up on LeBron James in the post before picking his pocket and sparking a successful fastbreak.
Much like Friday night’s game with Memphis, Denver failed to contain Cleveland on the offensive glass as the Cavs received far too many opportunities for second chance points. Despite the poor defensive rebounding however, it was actually a sound defensive quarter from the starters. Millsap, Harris and Wilson Chandler had a great quarter defensively and showed us a glimpse of what this team can look like on that end when everyone’s healthy.
Although, again, much like last night, Denver failed to finish the quarter strong after a hot start. The bench unit allowed Cleveland to make a push and the Nuggets led 37-31 after one.
The Nuggets cleaned up their act on the glass a bit in the second and the defense looked solid as Millsap and Harris had their fingerprints all over the quarter on that end of the floor. The Nuggets were generating stops, and this time securing the rebound — which allowed them to push their lead to double digits.
On the other end, the ball was popping for Denver. Gary Harris and Will Barton were two beneficiaries of that ball movement and they turned in a strong quarter offensively. Gary Harris finished the first half with 19 points, while Will Barton put us all on triple-double watch with an impressive 15 points, five rebounds and six assists.
At the end of the half, the Nuggets had generated 20 assists and shot a scorching 59.6 percent from the field — including an 8-15 performance from deep. The Nuggets took a 73-62 lead into the locker room.
Denver struggled a bit in the third quarter as LeBron James and JR Smith started to heat up. That stingy defense that the starting unit had showed flashes of seemed to disappear entirely as the Cavaliers dropped 35 points on Denver, the only quarter in the game in which the Nuggets would be outscored. They kept themselves in it though with the three point shot, and held a four point lead headed into the fourth as the momentum began to shift Cleveland’s way.
The fourth quarter quickly descended into madness. Both teams played desperate basketball, as perhaps they should be at this point in the season. And while the pace of the game was entertaining, it was mostly wild and frenetic. Both teams turned it over, the ball was loose and bodies were flying for much of the quarter. When the dust cleared, the Cavs were threatening to steal this game from Denver.
The Nuggets went ice cold from the field and while the Cavaliers half-court offense crumbled like sand, Cleveland generated points thanks to the individual skill of JR and the greatness of LeBron — the latter player securing a triple-double before the quarter had ended.
As Denver’s shot clanked off the rim, their lead began to disappear. With just under three minutes left, LeBron James sank a pair of free throws to cut the lead to just one. Gary Harris would step up though, as he did all night long — Denver’s best offensive player of the night sank two clutch threes down the stretch to push the game out of LeBron’s reach. Denver escaped Cleveland with a 126-117 victory — their fourth straight road victory — which is the first time the team has accomplished that feat since December of 2013.
Following the win, the Nuggets move to 35-28 on the year and 11-19 on the road. The team is off Sunday and Monday before taking on the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center.