Look, sometimes everything works out the way you want, and it did for the Denver Nuggets tonight as they crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers 133-95. Paul Millsap led Denver in scoring with 22 points while Jokic had a 12 point, 12 assist double double but it was absolutely a team effort, with no Nugget taking more than 10 shots or playing more than 30 minutes. Michael Porter Jr. dropped in 19, Barton had 16, and the Nuggets walked to victory with the starters sitting the entire fourth quarter. Everything Denver wanted, they got, and the Cavs had no answer. Jamal Murray and company shut down Collin Sexton, and other than Jarrett Allen’s 18 / 10 double double the Cavs had no one who threatened the Nuggets, and it showed.

Game Flow

The Cavaliers opened with a pair of buckets, including a steal and dunk from Andre Drummond, but Paul Millsap answered with a three, and a steal from Millsap let to a Jokic breakaway dunk – words that were not common for Jokic in prior seasons. Barton threw away a fastbreak off a Murray steal, but the teams were tied at 8 with three minutes gone. Barton swished a 10 footer, and a Collin Sexton turnover led to a Barton 3. The Nuggets showed active hands as Millsap had another steal, and Murray put in a difficult one-handed turnaround to stretch the lead to 15-8.

Sexton hit a couple of free throws, Jokic threw in a paint jumper to answer, and Jamal’s finish at the bucket put Denver up by 11. The Cavs had gone completely cold until they got a live ball turnover from Barton and got a breakaway dunk. Millsap answered with a three, and MPJ added a three of his own after making Denver’s first miss of the game at the rim earlier. Porter made a pair of free throws to take Denver to 30-14 with more than 2 minutes left as Cleveland missed their first 6 three-point attempts. Denver’s rookies got in early as Zeke Nnaji and RJ Hampton got minutes with Jokic, and despite JaVale McGee getting a rundown block on Monte Morris the Nuggets ended the first quarter doubling up Cleveland 34-17.

Facundo Campazzo missed a three for Denver to open the second quarter, but RJ Hampton made his. Campazzo had an amazing closeout on a corner three for a block, and Denver’s hustle from the first unit stayed constant with the second. JaMychael Green got a Cav in a poster dunk, but JaVale McGee put in a fallaway shot to answer. Both benches traded buckets, leaving Denver up 41-25. After some hectic back-and-forth, Monte Morris put in a paint bucket to calm things down. Campazzo finished at the rim, Morris hit a three to answer a Cleveland bucket and because the Cavs still couldn’t buy a three (0-11 at that point) the Nuggets were up 48-29 when Jokic came back in. 

Morris hit another three, Taurean Prince finally made Cleveland’s first shot from deep, and Jokic finished in the paint then set Barton up for another deep shot to make it 57-34 with under 4 minutes to go. The Cavs put some more aggression into the boards and played the Nuggets basically straight up for the first 10 minutes of the fourth, and Denver wasn’t able to pull them away. Barton had a nice finish at the hoop, Murray missed the bucket at the buzzer, and Denver finished the half up 20, 63-43.

Millsap opened the second half for Denver with a pair of buckets, and MPJ swished a three for a 71-45 Denver lead. Drummond hit a runner but that only gave him four points for the game, and Murray quickly answered. MPJ netted another three as Jokic kept feeding him. Darius Garland made a three after a Barton miss, and then a Murray turnover slowed Denver’s assault momentarily. MPJ got an assist on a Jokic bucket, Millsap got fouled on his way to the rim and hit his free throws to make it 80-50. 

Jarrett Allen was the one Cav that came to play, as he put in his 16th point to go with 8 boards to that point, but the Cavs just couldn’t slow Denver’s attack or crowd Jokic in any way despite Isaac Okoro dunking on Jokic. The Nuggets kept their quick hands, got Millsap a finish in transition and despite the Cavs finding some energy to run with them they kept the lead around 30, too. It was 89-58 after this no-look pass from Murray to Millsap, and the rout was on. 

MPJ hit a pull-up off a Jokic handoff, then swished a three as the Nuggets worked hard on the boards and on keeping the Cavs running. Barton had a beautiful slashing finish for his 19th point on the night. Jokic fed JaMychal Green in the final seconds for a dunk that took Denver to 100 points and a 34 point lead heading into the fourth.

The Nuggets unleashed their bench attack in the fourth and the rookies got more play, with Zeke Nnaji draining a pair of threes and Campazzo hitting one of his own. The garbage minutes were for the whole fourth and both teams just jacked shots at a high pace, forcing Denver to take a timeout up 35 so that coach Michael Malone could remind his team of the goals for the final period. The Nuggets responded with a steal and fastbreak that led to a ferocious Nnaji dunk (and a technical foul for taunting). RJ Hampton also threw down a dunk while Isaiah Hartenstein, Bol Bol and Markus Howard got into the game but the last few minutes were just victory laps, with a Bol steal and finish looking as casual as Denver’s final victory margin of 133-95.

Final Thoughts

– Denver ran. In the first half, in the second half, on misses and when pushing the ball downhill in the half court, they were aggressive and didn’t hesitate. And against a team without much defense, that plan of attack worked. Denver pressed them at the rim and shot well from three, which left Cleveland with too much court to cover and not enough time to set up their defense. Jamal Murray in particular looked great, getting into the paint to finish and able to stay in front of Collin Sexton all game, harrassing him into missed shots and turnovers.

The Nuggets looked spry, especially Paul Millsap with his team leading 22 points including several sprinting finishes at the rim. The Nuggets wanted it, worked for it, and the deep bench finished the game because Denver’s main rotation played this game like they had a point to prove.

– It takes a village, at least when the ball is going in. Denver spread the first half scoring around, with three players getting to double-figures – and none of those people were named Jokic or Murray. Monte Morris of all people led in shot attempts with 7. It looked like a concerted effort to get the ball moving and both Millsap and Barton benefitted by getting touches for their effort.

MPJ was not as lucky in the first half, having a missed oop connection with Murray but otherwise rarely looked at on offense or even touching the ball in the half court. But Jokic responded in the second half by feeding MPJ early who hit threes and grabbed rebounds. Denver finished with 6 players in double figures, but Jokic had a relatively easy night. For once it wasn’t on him to do everything, and he seemed to enjoy his chill evening. When the Nuggets share the chores and the ball – and they make shots – it makes everything much easier.