The Cavs have been on a great streak lately, and before this game had won six of eight and three in a row. The Nuggets were on an even better tear: eight in a row, with this win making it nine. What happens when a stoppable force meets a slightly less stoppable force? The second force wins by eight points. The Cavs played reasonably well tonight, but Denver is a premier NBA team, and the Cavs allowed the Nuggets to do Nugget-y things all night: run the floor, block shots, hit open threes, dunk, etc. On to the highlights:
The dominant narrative of the first quarter was that Alonzo Gee turned into Kevin Durant for a few minutes. He was draining threes, knocking down step-back J’s, and getting to the line. It was simply amazing to watch. He had 13 in three minutes, and 15 for the quarter. The defense was awful, though, and Tyler Zeller especially got manhandled in the paint. But it wasn’t just Tyler- the George Karl drive ‘n dish offense simply dismantled the Cavs. The quarter wasn’t awful, though. Kyrie Irving displayed his usual offensive wizardry, and the Cavs were up two at the end of one. CLE 32, DEN 30.
The second was really, really ugly until the 4:39 mark, when both teams threw their hands up and said the hell with defense. Before that point, there were a lot of Denver bricks and Dion Waiters turnovers and blocked shots. Kyrie and Tristan had a few buckets, and then Denver heated up and scored the last eight to take a six point lead into halftime. DEN 58, CLE 52.
Alonzo scored the first bucket of the third, and all of Cavaliers Nation waited breathlessly for another offensive explosion. Denver hit three shots in a row, and Kenneth Faried continued to jump all over the place, and Cavaliers Nation sighed. Then Alonzo scored again, and we sang hosannas and danced for our small forward. Alas, that was the end of it. Denver was nursing a ten point lead with six minutes left when Kyrie picked up his fourth foul of the game. His fouls were mostly a product of his general defensive malaise, and not fantastic effort on the fast break. The quarter finished, and Denver had an eleven-point lead. DEN 84, CLE 73.
Andre Miller started off the final frame with an and-one. Man, is that guy crafty. Just like that, the Cavs were down 14. A few Kyrie free throws, and some Ellington-Speights spice later, the lead was trimmed to 10. Then the Cavs basically traded buckets with the Nuggets for the rest of the quarter. That’s not a good way to win games when facing a deficit, it turned out. The Cavs could just not protect the paint tonight, or play anything resembling transition defense. The Nuggets had 62 in the paint, 20 on the break, and an eight point lead when the final buzzer sounded. DEN 111, CLE 103.
-Alonzo Gee’s one-man explosion in the first was a joy to watch. I’m not sure why the Cavs didn’t really look his way again for the rest of the game. He finished 8-8 from the field, and 3-3 from three. Think we could have used a few more bombs from Alonzo?
-Kyrie had 26, 7 and 6 tonight. 10-24 shooting. Not the type of game to complain about, but it wasn’t enough tonight. Perhaps this represents how badly the Cavs need help. Kyrie couldn’t pull it together for another maestro performance, and that meant a Cavs loss (not that there weren’t other factors).
-Dion was ineffective tonight. He had a few nice passes, and wasn’t a total matador on defense (that’s YOU, Kyrie), but he looked disoriented and was easily harassed into bad decisions.
-Tyler Zeller was awful. Really, really bad. He needs a lot of extra weight, but I’m not sure how much that bulk will even help unless he starts knocking down that mid-range jumper he likes so much.
-Tristan was a mixed bag. A few nice moves on offense, but Kenneth Faried absolutely abused him in the post. Manimal beat Tristan to the ball (and the hoop) all night.
-MARRREEEESSSSEEE Speights was really bad, shooting only 1-10 from the field. The caps lock, if you were wondering, indicates the scream intoned from my couch each time Speights takes an off-balance, early-in-the-shot-clock jumper. We get it, you’re a jump-shooting big man, Marreese. But you’re still a big man. Maybe it’s time to try a layup or two?
-Livingston and Ellington both had solid games.
-Eight of nine Nuggets had double digits, and the other guy to play (of nine) had seven. Man, these guys can ball. Also, I’m convinced that Javale Mcgee would be an All-Star with 35 MPG.