DENVER: The Cavaliers went scoreless for nearly two minutes late in the fourth quarter and the Denver Nuggets rallied late for a 98-91 victory at Pepsi Center.
The Cavs led for all but two minutes throughout the first three quarters, but went cold at the start and end of the fourth quarter to allow the Nuggets to improve to 13-2 at home.
Danilo Gallinari’s 3-pointer with 34 seconds left stretched the Nuggets’ lead to 94-89 and sealed any chance at a Cavaliers comeback.
Kyrie Irving played 39 minutes with the flu and had 28 points and seven assists, but appeared to run out of gas over the game’s final few minutes. Scott was forced to reinsert Irving sooner than he wanted in the fourth quarter because the Cavs were held to one basket through the first three minutes, allowing the Nuggets to tie the game at 78 on a fast break layup from Andre Miller with nine minutes left.
Irving hit his first three shots upon returning, but missed his final three over the game’s final three minutes.
Dion Waiters had 18 points off the bench and Tristan Thompson had 16 points and five rebounds, but the Cavs’ interior defense crumbled in the second half against a team that scores in the paint more than anyone.
Irving missed the morning shootaround with flu-like symptoms. As soon as he stepped on the bus for the ride to the arena, coach Byron Scott sent him back to his room to both rest and prevent him from infecting his teammates.
Scott was concerned with how the illness, combined with the high altitude, would impact Irving and wanted to keep an eye on his minutes. Irving played more than anyone on the Cavs.
The Nuggets began the night leading the league in points scored in the paint, averaging nearly 56 per game. The next closest is the Houston Rockets at 46.8. In their previous game against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, 68 of the Nuggets’ 108 points came in the lane.
Those kind of numbers grabbed Scott’s attention fairly quickly. Between the penetration and the 3-pointers the Nuggets love to shoot, Scott was willing to give the Nuggets the 3-point shots in exchange for clogging up the lane.
The Cavs did an admirable job with that in the first half, holding the Nuggets to 26 points in the lane. All of that changed in the second half thanks to Kosta Koufos’ career-high 21 points.
Koufos had 17 in the second half and the Nuggets pounded the Cavaliers inside for 32 points. It could’ve been even worse, but both Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee missed easy dunks from point-blank range with no one in front of them. It happened to McGee twice. In all three instances, the ball clanked off the rim and went soaring. It was so bizarre, even the home fans were giggling when it happened to McGee in the third quarter.
Gallinari had 23 points and seven rebounds and Kenneth Faried had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Nuggets. Thompson had 10 points in the first quarter for the Cavs, but managed six the rest of the way.
The Cavaliers carried a 56-45 lead into the half and survived foul trouble to both Tyler Zeller and Alonzo Gee. Miles’ 3-pointer with 1:07 left gave the Cavs the 11-point cushion, equaling their largest of the half.
The Cavs were tied or led for all but 32 seconds in the first half thanks in part to the Nuggets’ 13 turnovers. They finished with 22, equaling their season high.