Cleveland, Ohio - The Cavs entered Sunday night’s matchup with the Denver Nuggets down two rotation players. Despite being short handed they took down the defending champs 121- 109. Donovan Mitchell missed his second consecutive game due to a hamstring strain and Caris Levert was ruled out with knee soreness.
The Cavs began the game with an emphasis to get the ball on the inside with their first 4 possessions generating shots from the foul line or below. The Cavs also attacked Nikola Jokic, going at him in the paint and putting him in pick and roll actions. The Cavs were rewarded for their efforts as they drew 2 fouls on Jokic in the 1st quarter.
The Cavs shot 52% from the field and led the Nuggets by as much as 7 in the first quarter. However, the Nuggets ended the quarter on a 8-3 run to cut the Cavs lead 2.
Coach Bickerstaff pregame noted it was going to be important to limit the Nuggets to one possession.
“It’s extremely important to limit teams to one shot as much as you possibly can, a team like Denver that can spread you out and move well without ball is even more dangerous when they come up with off rebounds, typically you lose vision for a second to go into the paint to rebound, they do a go job of moving on the perimeter and that ends up being kick out 3’s or the guy who gets the off rebound is in position where he gets fouled a lot also and then you give up 3 either the catch and shoot ir with the free throw in it, so you have to do a great job at finishing possessions against a team like Denver”
The Cavs finished the 1st half out rebounding the Nuggets (26-20) and more than tripled their points in the paint (15-4). The 2nd quarter saw Craig Porter Jr put his mark on the game as he scored 8 of his 21 points in the 2nd quarter alongside 4 trips to the free throw line.
In the midst of the Cavs closing the half on a 13-5 run, they drew a 3rd foul on Jokic which proved to be critical in the 2nd half.
Jarrett Allen drew the assignment of guarding Jokic, while he only scored 2 points in the 1st half, he had a plus/minus of +20 going into halftime. The 3rd quarter is where Allen exploded for 13 points and drew fouls 4 and 5 on Jokic. Jokic’s 5th foul was reviewed and upgraded to a flagrant 1 foul. Jokic exited the game with over 7 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and didn’t return until the start of the 4th.
Jarrett Allen finished his night with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assist and a plus/minus of +42. Coach Bickerstaff explained what changed for Allen in the 2nd half.
“The Pick and roll game, they changed how they were covering it, and went into a deeper drop, and that allowed him to get the ball in the pocket. He’s good with both hands in that pocket. Darius and the guards, the guys that were attacking, when they saw the big back in that space for Jarrett, they just kept getting him the ball. We’ve got a group of guys that are learning and figuring out the game, but mostly how they can help each other. The simplest thing we try to get across to guys is just throw the ball to the open man, and in the 2nd half Jarrett was the open man quite a bit.”
The Cavs made the most of their time with the 2 time MVP on the bench as they pushed their lead to as much as 21 and ended the quarter with a 15 point lead.
Despite 6 points from Jokic in the first 6 minutes of the final period, the Nuggets pulled no closer than 18 before Nuggets Coach Mike Malone would sub out Jokic and his starters. The Cavs cruised to a 121-109 victory in spite of missing 2 of their top 3 scorers.
After the game Coach Bickerstaff applauded his bench players' work ethic and always being ready.
“That’s what professional sports is about. The NBA in particular throughout an 82 game season everybody’s going to get the opportunity to play. It's how many guys that you have that act professionally enough that are ready when their number is called. Those guys we’re talking about (Craig Porter Jr, Sam Merrill, Tristan Thompson) are ultimate professionals, they take their craft extremely serious. They work their tails off they make sure they stay in shape, they make sure they understand the system, so when their number is called they’re ready to go. Best part about them is, they’re competitive, they want to play, they put a lot of pressure on me and we have a lot of conversations about those guys wanting to get on the floor. We’re confident in them, their teammates are confident in them and they have that belief and professionalism in themselves also.”
The Cavs (7-6) are off Monday before taking on the Philadelphia 76ers (9-3) in Philly Tuesday November 21st. This will be their first matchup of the season and both teams 3rd In Season Tournament game.