(Denver, CO) — Behind a double-double from LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers held off a determined fourth quarter surge by the Denver Nuggets to put an end to their two-game losing streak with a 110-101 victory in the Mile High City on Friday night.
James, who finished the evening with a team-high 22 points and 11 assists, was one of seven Cavaliers who finished in double figures for scoring. The assists were part of a 25-assist effort, a marked contrast from Wednesday night’s mere six.
James said after the game that Matthew Dellavedova’s absence from the lineup was one reason for the high assist total. “I handled the ball a lot, which I like.” James noted that “You’ve got to make shots to get assists,” before adding, “Whatever benefits the team, we should all be comfortable with it.”
For much of the game, Cleveland held a double-digit lead that reached as high as 21 before the Nuggets whittled down the margin to only six at 98-92 with 4:30 to play.
Denver had a chance to cut their deficit to four soon after, but Dion Waiters stole the ball and drove for a dunk. He then quickly pushed the advantage back up to 10 on a jumper with 3:06 left. The Nuggets would get no closer than seven the rest of the way
Waiters’ place in the lineup nearly came to an abrupt end in the closing seconds of the first quarter when he drove to the basket and came down hard on his tailbone after being hit by Denver’s Darrell Arthur. Arthur was assessed a Flagrant Two foul and ejected from the game.
When the second half begun, the Cavaliers held a 58-45 lead, with the ebb and flow of the third quarter seeing each team take turns with some limited runs. The Cavaliers took their biggest lead at 82-61 after James hit a turnaround jumper.
After Waiters tossed in a pair of free throws to make it 85-65, Randy Foye hit on a pair of threes in the final 40 seconds to give Cleveland a 14-point lead entering the final quarter.
The two treys began a 14-3 run for Denver to slice the margin to nine at 88-79, a number that came close to becoming seven after a Nuggets basket was disallowed because of offensive goaltending with 9:30 to play. Until Waiters’ steal and dunk, Denver would remain within striking distance.
After the game, Waiters said that he “was sore all over” after his first quarter tumble, then spoke about the importance of this victory. “We needed this win bad,” said Waiters, who said their success was due in part to the fact that, “We didn’t get too stagnant.”
In Head Coach David Blatt’s postgame remarks, he praised Waiters by saying, “He did exactly what we [wanted] him to do off the bench,” but got perturbed when a reporter asked if the third-year guard was a better “bench player.” Blatt responded that he didn’t like the term and noted how many minutes Waiters and others had played. “To me, they’re second starters.”
Early on, the Cavaliers jumped out to leads of 9-2 and 19-7, primarily because of the severe disparity in outside shooting: Cleveland hit just under 64 percent of their shots, while the Nuggets connected on slightly under 19 percent.
Holding a 38-20 lead entering quarter number two, the Cavaliers had their biggest lead of the half after Tristan Thompson’s turnaround jumper that made it 48-29 with seven minutes left before intermission.
However, Denver charged back with a 13-2 run that chopped the Cavs lead to eight. That in turn led to Cleveland taking back control by scoring eight unanswered points before Denver converted a three-point play with 42.1 seconds left to close out the first half scoring.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving tallied 12 points and dished out six assists after being blanked in the latter category against Utah.
The win improves Cleveland’s record to 2-3 on the year, while Denver drops to 1-4. Next up for the Cavs will be a game on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena against the New Orleans Pelicans beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern. The game begins a stretch where the Cavaliers will play eight of their next ten games at home.