DENVER: Byron Scott has watched his team give away leads with lackadaisical efforts in the third quarter long enough. After it happened again Friday in a 98-91 loss to the Denver Nuggets, Scott was fed up.
The Cavaliers took an 11-point lead into the half, but watched it vanish within about the first six minutes of the third quarter.
“We came out in what I call our cool mode. What happens in this league, being cool will get your [butt] kicked,” Scott said. “We’re still young and dumb and ain’t understanding exactly what we have to do in the third quarter. It’s happening over and over and over. I’m tired of us giving games away. That’s what we did tonight.”
Danilo Gallinari’s 3-pointer with 34 seconds left stretched the Nuggets’ lead to 94-89 and sealed any chance at a Cavs comeback.
Kyrie Irving played 39 minutes with the flu and had 28 points and seven assists, but appeared to run out of gas in 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 score at 78-78 on a fast-break layup from Andre Miller with nine minutes left.
Irving made his first three shots upon returning, but missed his final three in 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, 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.
“I felt like crap,” Irving said.
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, but that changed in the second half thanks to GlenOak High School product Kosta Koufos’ career-high 21 points. Koufos had 17 in the second half and the Nuggets pounded the Cavs inside for 58 points.
The biggest mystery, however, is why the Cavs continue to stumble at the start of third quarters. It is baffling most everyone.
“We used to have that problem in L.A., but we were old in L.A. and it took awhile to get our legs going,” Luke Walton said. “This [locker room], that’s [expletive] wrong. We’re supposed to come out ready to run. It’s inexcusable.”
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 Cavs 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.
Then it all fell apart quickly in the second half.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.