Denver comes away victorious in both games on their short Midwest road trip
If you would have told me that the Denver Nuggets came out playing lethargically on the second night of a back-to-back game on the road against an inferior opponent last season, I’d have told you that we’d be in for a long evening.
That was not the case tonight. After falling behind by as many as 12 in the first, the bench unit (plus Jamal Murray) came in and flipped the script on the game. Denver buckled down in the second frame, outscoring the Cavaliers by 20 during the period en route to a 110-91 victory at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Juancho Hernangómez and Denver’s reserves outscored the starters, 59-51 as Juancho led all players with 23 points off the bench while Trey Lyles (12 points) and Mason Plumlee (11 points) combined to add another 23 for the second unit, helping the Nuggets pull out their second victory in less than 24 hours.
After stealing the win in Chicago last night, the Nuggets got off to a dreadful start, allowing the Cavaliers to gain some confidence and build an early lead. Fortunately, the bench came with enough energy to reel the game back in relatively quickly, allowing Denver to come back and establish a lead they would never relinquish throughout the rest of the game.
Denver out shot the Cavaliers from the field and from three-point range, they also out rebounded Cleveland 44-35 and dished four more assists on seven more made baskets. Paul Millsap continued his strong play, dropping a smooth 16 points on 66.7 percent shooting while snaring six boards in just 20 minutes of action. Including the aforementioned bench mob, Gary Harris and Murray rounded out the remaining six Nuggets in double figures.
Jordan Clarkson led the way for Cleveland, scoring 17 points off the bench while Cedi Osman added 13 and rookie point Collin Sexton guard put up 12 as the Cavaliers fell to 1-7 on the season. After requesting a trade earlier in the day, Cleveland guard J.R. Smith received the DNP-CD.
Nikola Jokić finished with just four points on five shots and added a mere six rebounds and three assists, but he did have a steal and a block during his 22 minutes of gameplay.
With the win tonight, Denver moves to 7-1 in the Western Conference and sits just one game back of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. The Nuggets face the Utah Jazz in a big early-season test in Denver on Saturday.
Again, the Nuggets seem to be playing with a maturity and fortitude that hasn’t been witnessed in seasons past. This iteration of Mile High Basketball sure is fun to watch. But with the effort like they gave in the second through fourth quarters (before garbage time, of course), we could see the Nuggets playing basketball past the middle of April for the first time in a long time.
On to my game notes.
The Nuggets got off to a listless beginning, missing several open looks and turning the ball over several times as the Cavs got out to a 12-4 advantage. After the first media break, the Nuggets came out with better defensive energy, got a few stops and a few scores to get back within three points.
The starters continued to miss their shots as the offense’s passing and cutting has evaporated over the past few games. A lot of the Nuggets offense right now appears to be predicated on the team’s ability to play one-on-one basketball, something I would argue is not this team’s forte.
When neither the guards or forwards are knocking down shots, spacing becomes a significant issue for the Nuggets offense. The Nuggets turned the ball over six times in the first quarter and entered the break trailing by 12 points, 27-15.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 1, 2018
Everyone struggled to make shots again early in the second as Lyles missed a three badly. After playing so well during the preseason, Lyles has started the season shooting just 3/22 from deep. Despite their shooting woes, the second unit began to play faster, got downhill on the Cavs defense and pulled the game within five points.
The cold shooting began to dissipate as the pace quickened. Juancho got hot, knocking down a couple of treys, and Malik Beasley also splashed one from distance to pull Denver within one of the Cavaliers.
Juancho has the prettiest looking shot on the team.
— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) November 1, 2018
Clarkson flew in for a pair of offensive boards and put-back layups, but the Nuggets eventually scratched and clawed to fight back and tie the score at 38 with less than five minutes to play in the half. Juancho knocked down a free throw to get the Nuggets their first lead since 2-0, and then he hit another three as part of a 30-9 extended run that allowed the Nuggets to build an eight-point lead by halftime.
The Nuggets held the Cavs to just 15 points in the second quarter, the lowest total for Cleveland in a single quarter this season. It would have been a meager 13 had the Nuggets not fallen asleep and allowed Larry Nance Jr. to get a tip-in at the buzzer though.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 2, 2018
The two teams traded baskets throughout the early stages of the third before Millsap scored six straight for the Nuggets, pushing the lead out to 14 before a timeout. Cleveland picked up the intensity following the timeout, but they struggled to make up ground throughout the middle part of the quarter.
Paul Millsap is really aggressive and into this one. He’s up to 12 and has been Denver’s most active player. The third quarter has been his.
— Duvalier Johnson (@DuvalierJohnson) November 2, 2018
The long ball started to drop as Monte Morris, Harris and Torrey Craig each hit threes for the Nuggets. The Mile High crew finished the third well, extending their lead to its biggest of the ballgame at 19 points. Clarkson, however, hit a couple of free throws to bring the Cavs deficit back down to 17 at the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter saw Juancho remain “en fuego” as he felt the foul, heard the whistle and sunk an awkward jumper for the and-one early on. The bench pushed the lead out further, seeing Lyles score on a layup and a pair of free throws following a steal and nice dish from Juancho.
The Nuggets pushed the lead out to as many as 26, and it was garbage time from then on out. We even saw brief minutes from (my guy) DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Tyler Lydon as the Nuggets pull out the win on the road.
Also, friendly reminder: Chicken nugget jokes still aren't funny. pic.twitter.com/GipdmjriS6
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 2, 2018