As the first half came to a close, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters attacked the rim in isolation, blowing by his defender on his way to the basket. Waiters missed the layup, but the ball bounded off the rim into the hands of teammate C.J. Miles, who was just behind the three-point line. Miles pulled up and drained a three from the corner as the buzzer sounded, giving the Cavaliers a season high 68 first half points and an 11 point lead at the half.
The Cavaliers would need that cushion, as the Nuggets rallied in the second half to change the trajectory of the game. Even so, the Cavaliers kept their distance, always maintaining a two-possession lead sans a 66 second stretch in the fourth quarter. But the Cavaliers finished strong, holding the Nuggets scoreless over the last minute plus and winning by a final score of 117-109.
Kyrie Irving co-lead all scorers with 23 points, while Tristan Thompson added 20 points on 8-9 shooting while also pulling down 10 rebounds. Wilson Chandler led the Nuggets with 23 points, 15 of which came from deep.
The Cavaliers really won this game in the minutes preceding Miles’ half-ending three-pointer. In the second period, the Wine & Gold put 42 points on the board with scoring from just about everyone who saw minutes while the Nuggets scored 28. Cleveland was aggressive in attacking the rim in the second quarter and had no trouble of taking advantage of poor defensive rotations inside from Denver.
Cleveland adjusted their defense in the second half, limiting the space that Ty Lawson had to operate in the pick & roll. This resulted in some frenzied play, as the Cavaliers were able to get out in transition a tad more than they did in the first half. Still, behind some timely threes, the Nuggets were able to close the gap and make the game close down the stretch.
But in the fourth, the Cavaliers finished the game stronger than they have any point this season. They kept the game at their pace against a team great at implementing their up-tempo style and repelled any run that Denver made. And, with seemingly every Cavalier clicking, they held on and finished their road trip with a winning record.
The Wine & Gold next play the Dallas Mavericks on Monday at Quicken Loans Arena. Tip-off is at 1 p.m.
PG Kyrie Irving - 33 minutes, 23 points, 9-16 shooting, 1-3 from deep, six assists, one turnover
Irving started slow tonight and kind of seemed disinterred for stretches. But with there rest of the team getting hot in the second quarter, Irving got rolling and and Kyrie Irving things with the basketball. He missed a few outside shots – like he did in the previous game against Portland – but he attacked the rim consistently tonight and finished several times when drawing contact. In short, his is the kind of performance that makes me feel comfortable tweeting “Kyrie Irving #NBABallot”.
SG C.J. Miles - 38 minutes, 19 points, 6-12 shooting, 3-7 shooting,
C.J. Miles was good tonight. He cut nicely off the ball tonight and had a few nice pieces at the rim. Miles has cooled off since his insane stretch that was capped off his three-point barrage against the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s found his niche with Waiters on the bench and fits in with what the Cavaliers are doing on offense with Luol Deng at the three spot.
SF Luol Deng - 30 minutes, 18 points, 6-17 shooting, 6-7 from the free throw line
Deng had his minutes limited tonight – which was okay – and I loved how he played in the second half. This was the best indication of what he will provide to the Cavaliers moving forward and, in the second half, he was just superb cutting off the ball and finishing on the inside. My favorite play rom Deng tonight was his cut along the baseline where he was fed by an alert Anderson Varejao. I can’t wait to see more of this moving forward.
PF Tristan Thompson - 37 minutes, 20 points, 8-9 shooting, 10 rebounds, two blocks
Thompson just did whatever he wanted against Kenneth Faried tonight on both ends. This was huge for Thompson, as he has struggled mightily on this road trip and needed a game like this to get back on track. This was the best version of Tristan Thompson and one I want to see more of on a consistent, night to night basis. Here’s hoping he celebrates tonight listening to this song.
C Anderson Varejao - 31 minutes, seven points, 2-5 shooting, 3-4 from the line, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals
Ideally, this is the kind of night Varejao will have every night. He is an underrated passer (especially out of the high post) and showed that tonight. He also owned the boards tonight, just grabbing boards on boards and out hustling Denver in every single of his 31 minutes. And again, his passing is underrated and tonight showed it. There’s a reason he lead the Cavaliers in assists tonight.
G Dion Waiters - 28 minutes, 9 points, 3-14 from the field, 1-3 from three, 2-2 from the line, two assists, +/- of +9
I’ve never swooned so hard over a player who went 3-14 from the field and finished with nine points. And almost died on the basketball court. Waiters has in a way become the persona of this Cavaliers team, as everyone is starting to play with attitude Waiters plays with when he comes off the bench. The pitfall is that if everyone is like Dion Waiters, then everyone will be shooting first and thinking later and be prone to have a bad attitude at times. But that’s why you have guys like Irving and Deng in the locker room to even everything out. At this point, I am fully on the Waiters bandwagon.
If the Cavaliers were to make the playoffs, I think this would be exactly how Mike Brown would manage his lineups. Matthew Dellavedova didn’t play tonight and neither did Alonzo Gee and Anthony Bennett. Nine Cavaliers saw the floor tonight and he leaned on his starters heavy, as all played above 30 minutes. Waiters was the lone player coming off the bench to see more than 17 minutes and maybe this what he will see going forward.
This was Brown at this best. He made an ice halftime adjustment in closing out on Lawson harder in the pick & roll and it unquestionably tightened up the Cavaliers defense in the second half. This game was especially key, as the often questioned coach helped his team respond well on the road at high altitude at the end of a rather disappointing road trip. Brown coached a solid game tonight when he needed to most, no doubt about it.