The Cavaliers played Denver's game in the first half of Thursday night's nationally televised clash with the Nuggets, a team that has been camped out and rooting through the fridge of Cleveland's kitchen ever since LeBron James came into the league. Denver came in 8-2 against the Artists Commonly Known as the LeBrons, including 4-1 at the Building Formerly Known as the Gund, and they started out on Thursday like they were going to lure the Cavaliers into another run-and-gun fest that they couldn't survive. But they did survive, and then thrived with a second half that looked like a lot of the others in this six-game winning streak, right down to the decisive fourth-quarter run spearheaded by someone other than LeBron James. In the first half, Denver outscored Cleveland 61-58; in the second, Cleveland outscored Denver 52-38. In the end, the Nuggets couldn't even crack the century mark, as the Cavaliers pulled away to a 110-99 victory, their sixth in a row.
The And-One Memorial First Quarter: The first quarter looked more like an All-Star Game than a mid-November plodder: LeBron had at least four spectacular dunks, including a windmill off a Ben Wallace steal and feed 1:19 into the game; Big Ben at one point dribbled right down the lane, kissed in a lay-up with a foul, then swished the free throw; Chauncey Billups, with his nemesis Eric Snow nowhere in the building, knocked in 16 points on seven shots; the teams combined for 36 points in the period on 29-of-43 (67%) shooting and neither team missed a shot from the field until the 8:40 mark, by which time they'd hit a combined 9-of-9. It was exactly the wrong way to play against the Nuggets, a team that lives for this kind of pace, but it was certainly entertaining.
Sasha Sighting: The glowering Serb came into the ballgame early in the second period and did a nice job defensively on J.R. Smith, who had been treating Boobie Gibson like a rotisserie chicken. Sasha's defense on Smith, along with the unaccountable disappearance of Chauncey Billups (who sat for eight-and-a-half minutes of the second period) helped slow the pace of the game from the Man ‘War-type gallop to a brisk trot more to the liking of the Cavaliers.
You have to like this backcourt: Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson, Delonte West: 47 points on 51% shooting with 11 assists. Moe was aggressive all night, accomplishing a rare feat: leading a LeBron James team in both points (24) and shots (21.) Boobie broke out of horrible shooting slump with 7-of-11 and 15 points in less than 19 minutes, including a pair of runners that maintained an 11-2 Cavaliers surge spanning the third and fourth periods, the run that ultimately proved decisive. At one point in the first quarter, Dontae Jones got caught staring a hole in Mo and lost LeBron, who went baseline, took Mo's bounce pass, and absolutely hammered home his eight-trillionth career dunk. The play was a testimony to Denver's spectacularly bad defense, but also to the fact that there are more players of concern on the floor for Cleveland these days, especially in the backcourt.
Cleveland ended the night with 30 assists and nine turnovers, a ratio that lends itself to winning. The bantam-sized backcourt has contributed to the problems the Cavaliers have had lately rebounding the ball- either they're too small to seal off offensive boards, or they're releasing early- but it's nice to see guys out there that have the mindset to score and distribute, and more importantly, the ability.
LeBron's line: 22 points on 10-of-20, with 11 assists, and eight rebounds in a pleasing 38 minutes. He wasn't the one-man wrecking crew that had destroyed the Bulls with 82 points in 72 hours, but his timing, as always, was impeccable: it was his and-one and buzzer-beating long jumper that gave the Cavaliers elemental control of the game at the end of the third quarter.
Play of the night: The chest-bump between LeBron and Mo Williams after Mo's three gave the Cavaliers a 103-91 lead with 5:55 to play. It looked like a handcar colliding with a freight train. Whether he's skinning it with fans in the front row or splattering his teammates with chest-bumps, it's easy to see that LeBron is having a gas playing the game of basketball right now.
Bronze these statistics: Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao went a combined 5-of-5 from the free-throw line. Big Ben didn't miss a shot, going 4-of-4 from the field and 3-of-3 from the foul line before leaving in the second half with a "knee contusion." Sure will be nice when Antonio McDyess is in the fold to give Ben those pine minutes, keeping him fresh...
He's been hanging around Z too much: Memo to J.J. Hickson- it is perfectly okay to pass out of the post every now and again. You don't have to shoot every... single... time. Did I mention how nice it will be when Antonio McDyess is here?
On second thought...: I thought the acquisition of Chauncey Billups would improve Denver's defense. Then again, I also thought Dan McGwire would be the next great NFL quarterback. The Nuggets are still a monument to bad defensive basketball, even with the man who for some weird reason is referred to as "Mr. Big Shot."
Chippiness!: Dontae Jones and LeBron exchanged words in the third quarter, and with a minute left, Joey Crawford ejected Kenyon Martin, who spent most of the fourth quarter seemingly trying to get thrown out.
Not bad, not bad: Cleveland was -2 in the 9:58 LeBron spent on the bench, +3 in the fourth quarter. For the first time in the LeBron era, the Cavaliers can put enough scorers and ball-handlers in the game to maintain offensive flow and hold down the fort until the King doffs his ermine robes and goes back to conquering.
Next: Utah comes to down Saturday at 7:30.