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Recap: The Denver Nuggets, Dazed and Confused

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The Nuggets weathered the early offensive onslaught, but ultimately the Nuggets offensive confusion and questionable defensive strategy left them out in the cold, losing to the Cavaliers, 110-101.

Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw's choices are becoming maddening.
Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw's choices are becoming maddening.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

That was....encouraging? Maybe I'm an optimist, but I noticed some positive things from tonight's game. There were quite a few things to be worried about, and maybe those are the things that we end up taking away anyway. Here's what happened:

1st Quarter

Darrell Arthur's Flagrant Foul type 2 (Ejection), on a push of Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters, while he attempted a driving layup, was the most fight you'd get out of the Nuggets in the first quarter.

Well that's not entirely true. Randy Foye was the only player seemly comfortable creating his own shot, that’s the main offense the Nuggets could really muster in the first quarter. Denver was content going to the post early (probably due to the absence of Ty Lawson), but the Cavs defensive effort stymied any progress in down low.

Cleveland had an 8-2 run to start the game, as LeBron James looked very active on defense with deflections and blocked shots. Denver meanwhile looked flat and uninitiated. Shooting early and often from the outside, the Nuggets could generate no real ball movement with no playmakers on the floor. It came down to Arron Afflalo unsuccessfully creating for himself a la Kobe Bryant.

Timofey Mozgov (who went out early with fouls at 7:12 left in the game) and Kenneth Faried struggled with Anderson Varajeo’s movement without the ball. Varajeo had 11 points and four rebounds in the quarter. With about 5:00 left, the Nuggets got out on the break a bit and were able to get some isolation shots out of Wilson Chandler (8 points in the quarter) and Foye, but the Cavaliers still led, 38-20 at the end of one.

2nd Quarter

Iso ball was still the most effective offense that the Nuggets could muster. Foye maneuvered the ball well and Nate Robinson’s fearless long ball came into play, but Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw stuck with initiating the offense through his bigs at or below the free throw line.

Surprisingly it was the Nuggets' defense that brought them back into the game. Denver started switching on the pick-and-roll, to some success, fueling a 7-2 run midway through the second quarter. Mozgov also made a difference. He single-handedly held LeBron scoreless (0-3; LeBron settling for jumpers on two of those shots did help - though Mozzy deserves credit for deterring any driving).

Denver eventually cut Cleveland's lead down to 11 after a Danilio Gallinari three-pointer, at 50-39, with 3:32 left in the half. Nate cut that lead down to nine with 2:00 left, and the Nuggets clearly had the momentum. Yet, just like that, LeBron did what LeBron does, converting a driving layup and a fastbreak three pushing the lead back out to 14.

3rd Quarter

The Nuggets defense cannot rotate faster than LeBron and Irving's passes are finding their mark. That and Love operating down low gave the Nuggets real issues in the third. Their care-taking on offense slowed down the Nuggets fast break.

At this point it was clearly evident of two things: Mozgov is the only way the Nuggets can contend on defense (he even guarded Dion Waiters effectively on the perimeter for crying out loud), and offensive success is only going to come on the break.

Neither was evident in the third. LeBron hustling on defense, then taking a drive into the chest of Gallinari for the layup and foul, stifled any Nuggets momentum. Denver trailed 85-68 at the end of three.

4th Quarter

Denver forced themselves back into the game with a lineup of Eric Green, Jusuf Nurkic, Gallinari, Foye, and Alonzo Gee (outscoring the Cavs 21-13 with that lineup). Cutting the lead down to 11 within the first four minutes with solid defense (forcing Irving into tough shots), the Nuggets depth finally showed up.

The defense and shooting from outside kept this from being a blowout, but those shots were almost all isolations and their defense began to fall apart after Shaw decided to continue riding the pick-switching tactics he deployed earlier to some success. The Cavaliers decided to finally take full advantage of those switches.

Even so, the Nuggets aggressive play on defense early in the quarter was a positive with that lineup. Offensively their drives got them back into the game, even cutting the lead to six with 3:50 left. Waiters's scored on a steal and dunk, followed by an isolation 20-footer pushed the lead back up to 10.

Yet it all came back to the Nuggets' switching on the pick and roll. With Irving driving on Nurkic, Love drawing fouls on Gee, and LeBron taking everyone to the rim effectively ended the game.

Takeaways

The Nuggets really, really missed Ty Lawson on offense tonight. Early on, they looked lost outside of Arron Afflalo's chucking, Randy Foye's isolations, and a few bright spots by Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler. Denver had success when out on the run, after makes, misses, every time a shot goes up. There is no reason why this team should not be running exclusively.

Shaw decided to ride his depth out at the beginning of the fourth, but he maybe should have went back to his starters, as the Nuggets bench players are bench players for a reason. Shaw's rotation choices again had no form or fashion as he seemed to be reacting to the situations presented instead of forcing their print on Cleveland.

Kenneth Faried had success facing up against Love, but the Nuggets never really went to him down low after they went down big early. Mozgov really makes a difference on defense, he settles the Nuggets and gives them resistance at the rim, McGee not some much, and Nurkic probably should be taking McGee's minutes sooner than later.

All in all maybe that was actually....discouraging.