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Recap: Nuggets outdueled by LeBron and the Cavaliers, 113-108

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LeBron and Jokic had an epic duel, but Cleveland came out on top

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In a game featuring two of the league’s premiere stars, LeBron James vs. Nikola Jokic did not disappoint. The two dueled all night long but ultimately LeBron and the Cavs prevailed 113-108, led by LeBron’s 39-8-10 night. Jokic put up 36-13-6 himself, but it wasn’t enough to beat Cleveland for a second time this season.

Cleveland came out hot out of the gates and grew a quick 16-8 lead before Malone called timeout, but it was to no avail as Denver didn’t remember they were supposed to play defense. The Cavs’ lead grew to 11 and the Nuggets season nearly ended as Jokic bumped knees with Larry Nance Jr. and went down, but appeared to be alright on the bench. Mason Plumlee filled in at center and immediately made an impact with two quick dunks. LeBron James had a cool eight points and five assists for Cleveland, who led by 15 after one.

Devin Harris got things going for Denver to start the second, hitting a three and making a transition layup to cut the lead to single digits. The single digit deficit would not last, however. A Korver three and two quick buckets put Cleveland up 16, but soon Denver would go on a run of its own. Jokic and co. checked back in and immediately went to work - free throws by Jokic, two threes by Millsap and a three from Gary Harris put Denver within five points. The last four minutes or so of the half were dominated by James, who scored in every way possible and pushed the lead up to 12. At half, Cleveland 70 (!), Denver 58.

The LeBron James show continued in the third as the King just couldn’t be stopped. James put up eight points and was up to 30 points with 7:00 remaining in the frame. Denver still continued to score, but with hardly any stops on the other end the Cavs’ lead never really seemed within reach. Jokic had other ideas, though, as it was his turn to show he can compete with the best. Magic Jokic was unstoppable. He scored 17 points in the third quarter (to Cleveland’s 19), and kept Denver alive.

Denver’s run continued into the fourth, by Mason Plumlee no less. After an easy dunk in the pick and roll, Plumlee powered his way to a layup to give the Nuggets their first lead on the night and force LeBron back into the game. But just as soon as Denver were up, the Nuggets simply couldn’t score on multiple possessions in a row, enabling Cleveland to regain the advantage. From there, the Nuggets simply couldn’t keep up. Jokic was again phenomenal on offense, but LeBron closed the game by scoring the Cavs final nine points to ice the Nuggets. Final score: Cavs 113, Nuggets 108.

Game Notes and Thoughts

  • Malone benched Jokic in the fourth quarter in Dallas yesterday, then pleaded for him to be more aggressive before the game tonight. How did Jokic respond? 36 points, 12-14 FG, 10-11 FT, 13 REB, 9 AST. Great game on offense. Defense, still questionable, but good to know Jokic is still alive.
  • Nothing Denver could do to stop LeBron in the second half. Dude is unreal.
  • Millsap stepping out of bounds on Denver’s final possession...
  • There were several times throughout the night when it looked like Cleveland would simply pull away and that would be it, and credit to Denver for sticking around. HOWEVER, it can’t be overlooked how horrible the team looked last night. Where was this effort in Dallas? Where is the consistency? We are far past the point of moral victories. As fun as this game was, this loss was big.
  • Updated playoff picture: Utah won tonight, and with Denver’s loss the two now have identical records... the Clippers have now taken the 8th playoff spot.
  • Hastings and Marlowe are great in their own individual ways, but man it would be great to listen to Chauncey Billups call the Nuggets every night. Not only did he provide good insight about the game, but he had some phenomenal quotes about his time in Denver, Nikola Jokic, happenings around the league and even Broncos quarterbacks. It was his first time on color commentary for ESPN and I thought he killed it.