The Denver Nuggets gave a spirited effort against the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight but in the end one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference proved to be just too much. Lebron James led the way for the Cavs as he almost effortlessly scored thirty-two points. Tristan Thompson also played strong for Cleveland. On the Nuggets side they once again got a superb effort from Will Barton and Joffrey Lauvergne had moments where he looked like a true NBA starter against Kevin Love. The Cavs though showed that more often than not talent is going to win out and despite being on the fourth game in five nights on the road, they win this one.
The game started with some interesting match ups as Love did not take on Kenneth Faried but rather Lauvergne while Faried went after Thomspon. Regrettably, Kostas Papanikolaou was given the task of covering James. Lauvergne made the most of his match up and showed off some very nice post work which allowed him to blow by Love on a couple of possessions to score Denver's first six points. Cleveland countered with LeBron taking advantage of the Papa match up and he was able to get a quick seven points of his own. Faried struggled to keep up with Thompson on the boards and the Cavs reeled off a 10-0 run that would give them the lead for the rest of the game. Nikola Jokic relieved Lauvergne and continued the good play inside, but Denver was unable to compliment it with any sort of outside game, going 0-5 on threes to start.
The second quarter started with some good transition basketball from Denver but Cleveland was quickly able to stagnate the running game and once Jameer Nelson was out of the game Denver's offense became stagnant. Jokic was trying to work the post but he struggled with Timofey Mozgov's size inside. The lack of a floor general led to some very sloppy play which allowed the Cavs to continue to push the lead back to double digits every time it looked like Denver was getting close. To make things worse, it wasn't until about half way through the second quarter before Will Barton finally connected on a three for Denver. Meanwhile, Papa had absolutely zero chance defending LeBron, who had his jumper going, and the lead quickly was pushed out to 41-30. Gary Harris played well in the second frame, attacking the basket and keeping Denver within striking distance. However, the Nuggets sloppy play on D and inability to hit jump shots on offense allowed the Cavs to maintain the 11 point lead going into the half.
The second half started with a Thompson and 1 but Gary Harris' play wouldn't allow Cleveland to completely put the Nuggets away. Papanikolaou started to resort to simply fouling LeBron in lieu of attempting to play defense. In fairness some of the calls going against the Nuggets did feel like the superstar whistle. Denver tried to push the pace but they couldn't convert on the offensive end and at one point both teams were running back and forth turning the ball over or clanking shots. That sloppy mess finally ended with a Gary Harris three. Harris, Lauvergne and Barton all kept up their strong play but they were offset by Faried's lack of effort on the boards and the fact that Papanikolaou is simply not a good professional basketball player.
Despite all of their struggles, Denver hung around and still was in striking distance in the fourth quarter. The Jokic vs Mozgov battle was pretty entertaining and went well into the final period. When the offense stalled Barton began to force things a bit. This was compounded by Denver's overall sloppy play and every time they looked like they were going to get close they'd either have a turnover or a lazy jumper that turned into a fast break the other way. LeBron continued to just quietly dismantle the Nuggets, which will happen when Papa and Mike Miller spend the majority of the game guarding him. There was a concerning moment in the fourth when Darrell Arthur made a nice tip in play but contorted his back to do it and looked to be in pain. Denver gave one last gasp to come back with the hack-a strategy on Thompson but it was ultimately fruitless and LeBron put the cherry on top with a break away double pump reverse jam. Despite their best efforts, Denver loses 93-87
Key match up: Kenneth Faried vs Kevin Love
This one got no burn. Faried took on the task of Thompson and got out played. Both players have very similar games but Thompson highlighted the fact that he is taller and stronger than Faried. Though Faired had the slightly higher stat line, it seemed anytime the two went at it, it was Thompson getting the boards and the put backs. Meanwhile, Love was probably a bit surprised by the play of Lauvergne who more than once flashed some fancy post moves to get easy buckets inside. Somehow Love still managed to pull in 14 rebounds even though it didn't seem as though he was dominating the glass.
Key thing to watch for: Finishing out the game
Denver actually played better in the second half than in the first tonight. They came out pretty flat and let Cleveland get an early lead and shoot 51% in the first half. The problem wasn't so much energy in the second half as it was the sloppy play. The team totaled 18 turnovers in the game and it really became evident in the second half. Missing Emmanuel Mudiay really hurt Denver tonight as whenever Nelson was out the offense was stagnant and mistake prone.
Can Nikola Jokic do damage against Mozzy?
Jokic was one of the bright spots tonight and the battle he waged with Timo was the most entertaining part of the game. Jokic got out in transition and showed his ability to step out to mid range to get buckets but anytime he went inside he was met with the big body of Mozgov and couldn't get his post game going. It was yet another game that Jokic's stats project to a double double if extended for 36 minutes and he continued to show off his passing ability. At one point he made a beautiful pass to Harris for a wide open dunk and had another nice bounce pass out of the post to a wide open Miller in the corner (though he did not convert).
I normally don't add an extra tidbit in the recap but it has to be said that Barton is really impressive. Denver kept within striking distance for the whole game mainly because of Barton's play. There were times where he rushed his shot and I think you can tell that without Danilo Gallinari he really feels the pressure to be the go to guy on offense for Denver. He didn't shy away from the task tonight and put up 29 points to go with seven rebounds.
Prediction: I got pretty close on this one and the game went more or less as I expected, a slower grind it out type of game where Denver just didn't have the talent to overcome a far superior team.