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:
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.
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).
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.