Gary Harris stepped up in a big way, showing off in front of future Nuggets All-Star LeBron James to the tune of 32 points to lead Denver to a 126-117 win in Cleveland.
James had a triple-double, but it wasn’t enough to defeat his future teammates, with 25 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds. JR Smith had 19 points, but ran out of gas with a few minutes remaining in the game and the Cavs couldn’t complete their comeback.
The Nuggets offense was popping to start the game, with a nice pace and quality spacing against the Cavaliers defense. The Nuggets weren’t afraid to shoot early in the shot clock, attacking weak defenders like JR Smith and Cedi Osman for wide open looks at the rim. The Nuggets started dropping in jumpers about halfway through the quarter, claiming a 31-21 lead with just under three minutes remaining. That’s about when the second unit took the court, and the Cavaliers won the final stretch of the quarter, but the Nuggets had a 37-31 lead at the end of the first 12 minute stretch - a stretch that saw LeBron James and Gary Harris play every minute.
The Nuggets reserves let the Cavaliers back in the game, getting the score to 45-43 after a couple of dunks by Larry Nance Jr. There was one dunk he had that deserves a highlight, because although we’re Nuggets fans, this was good basketball.
LARRY— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) March 4, 2018
Oof, Mason. Why jump there?
The Nuggets responded with a quick, three possession 9-2 run that pushed their lead to 54-45. That’s when the starters took the court again, and the Nuggets guards kept the pressure on the Cavs defense to close out the quarter. Gary Harris was especially special, getting open looks in transition from the perimeter to finish the half as the leading scorer in the game with 19 points. Jokic had just one field goal attempt (and make) in the first half, but was a +12 as the offense was moving through him consistently and efficiently. Denver had 20 assists on 28 made field goals, and nearly shot 60/50/90 in the first half.
The Nuggets offense kept on clicking for the starters through the third quarter, stretching the lead up to fifteen points and picking the Cavs defense to pieces. Tyronn Lue was called for a technical foul after LeBron missed a technical foul, and then the refs called a makeup call on Harris after, fulfilling the star player protocol. The reserves came in the game, and the Cavs gradually cut the lead down to just six points, 103-97 at the end of the third. James had just 17 points, but had 14 assists to keep his team within striking distance.
The Nuggets had the misfortune of seeing JR Smith get hot at the start of the fourth quarter, and the slinger of soup brought the Cavs to within three points with some shake and bake on the perimeter. Both teams got a little cold, stalling at 115-110 for a time, and things got real dicey after James knocked down two free throws to draw within one point with about two and a half minutes.
Paul Millsap made a huge (HUGE) 3-pointer, sparking an 11-0 run over a two minute span that iced the game for Denver. Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Wilson Chandler stepped up in a huge way, giving the Nuggets an enormous win on the road.
How good is the Nuggets offense going to be with James on their roster next season? I’m not trolling. James is going to be recruited by Richard Jefferson, Mike Miller, with a vote of confidence from Dwyane Wade and investment opportunities with the Kroenke family. Murray, Harris, Jokic and Millsap give him a great core to work with, and he’ll have a chance to eliminate all competition before making the Finals.
Come see what Mile High Basketball can do for your game, LeBron. Come to Denver.