The Denver Nuggets made their sole trip to Cleveland on Saturday night to take on the Cavaliers, who had gone into the game boasting a three game winning streak. That may not sound very impressive for most teams, but we're not overly used to winning around these parts. The Nuggets had an eight game streak of wins themselves.
Denver started the game on an 8-0 run. Alonzo Gee responded with a quick 15 points on 6-6 shooting. The Nuggets did a solid job of shutting Gee down. Despite scoring 17 points in the first quarter, Gee finished the game with 20 points. The Cavs lost by a final score of 111-103. Losing by 8 points to the Nuggets is not the worst thing in the world, but this game had potential to be a lot worse if Alonzo Gee did not have a career night in the first quarter alone.
Newcomer Marreese Speights had his first bad game with the Cavs. He scored 5 points on 1-10 shooting. It felt as if every shot Speights took in the game was rushed and it showed because of his 10% shooting in the game. Things were not much better for Dion Waiters. The rookie, who has struggled to string together consecutive good games, played very poorly. Waiters took 6 shots and only made 1 of them. Waiters had the opportunity to play a third good game in a row after scoring 19 and 15 against Charlotte and Orlando, but he did not capitalize.
Javale McGee is a difference maker for the Nuggets. Sometimes the difference is good and other times it is bad. But there is almost always a difference. Against the Cavs, it was good. He was very active and played fairly smart. McGee blocked 4 shots. Admittedly, one of them was probably a goaltend. Towards the end of the game, McGee blocked a shot which sparked a fast break dunk for Andre Iguoudala. This was effectively a four point swing late in the game. McGee was active and was going for every block available. Referees are human and they sometimes miss a call, but it seems to make sense that they will be more likely to give the call to a player who is good at blocking shots.
The Nuggets were simply too good for the Cavs. The only Nugget to not score in double figures was Wilson Chandler, and he had 7 points. Denver was too good from the field, got to the line, moved the ball and blocked a lot of shots. That is a recipe for a loss for the young Cavs.
Kyrie Irving had a sneaky bad game. The box score numbers look good (26 points, 7 assists and only 2 turnovers), but his shot wasn't falling and he wasn't doing things that we are accustomed to. Perhaps we are getting spoiled by his late-game heroics, but it was odd seeing the Cavs repeatedly pull within a range where they can win and to see Irving not get to the rim at will. Irving was hampered by by foul trouble. He was whistled for his third foul before halftime, which made Byron Scott's rotations different than he is accustomed to. It is a shame, because Irving and the Cavs are not on national TV very often and this was a rare game on NBA TV. It would have been nice for the national audience to see Irving play as well as we know he can.
The Nuggets are a team that has much better ball movement than the Cavs. This could be a by-product of not having a star player. The Cavs tend to get caught up watching Kyrie Irving and waiting for him to bail them out. When the Cavs were on offense, the off-ball players stood around a lot. The Nuggets on the other hand, had a lot of off ball movement and screens which helped get open shots. Whether or not this is an issue with having a transcendent player like Irving on the team or not, it is an issue that Byron Scott needs to address. This seems like it is purely a coaching issue and one that needs to be fixed sooner than later.
Things get easier for the Cavs on Monday night when they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves.