The Cleveland Cavaliers’ first game back at full strength didn’t go as planned.
The Cavs were drubbed by the Denver Nuggets 126–113 Wednesday in Denver the same night Kyle Korver returned after missing seven games with a sore left foot and coach Tyronn Lue went back to the starting lineup that won the title last season.
After the two teams combined for 65 first quarter points, the Cavaliers fell behind in the second. After the game was tied at 34 with 11:03 to play, the Nuggets went on a 40-15 run over the rest of the period. They lead by as many as 20 during that stretch.
During the quarter, the Cavs also tried out a small lineup of LeBron James, Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert. In a little over four minutes, the group was outscored by seven points. Rookie Jamal Murray paced Denver with 13 of his 15 points in the quarter.
In the third, the Cavs did get themselves back in the game. A Love three with 6:18 to go in the quarter cut Denver’s lead to single digits. With 5:39 to play, J.R. Smith and LeBron connected on an alley-oop that cut the deficit to five and prompted a Nuggets timeout. The basket capped of a 22-13 Cavaliers run to start the second half.
But Denver responded out the timeout with Kenneth Faried scoring 7 points over the final five minutes. Within two minutes, Denver’s lead was back up to 13 and with 2:46, Nikola Jokic scored over LeBron to push the Nuggets’ lead to 16. Irving scored 14 of his game-high 33 points the quarter to keep the Cavs within 11 after three.
During the third, Lue picked up his third-ever technical when he walked over to the Nuggets side of court. He was arguing the officials’ decision to not review Jameer Nelson’s foul on Irving.
The Nuggets pushed their lead to as many as 19 in the fourth. With 6:42 left, after a timeout prompted by a Faried basket, Derrick Williams subbed in for LeBron, effectively ending the Cavs’ hopes of winning.
The Nuggets, who came into the game with the league’s fifth best offense, finished with seven players in double figures. Barton lead Denver with 20 points. Jokic added 16 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists.
In the loss, Irving extended his streak of scoring 20 points or more to 19. In his return, Korver finished 9 points in 19 minutes. James finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in 34 minutes. Deron Williams had 19 points in his highest-scoring game with the Cavs.
With the Celtics beating the Pacers Wednesday, the Cavs’ lead atop the Eastern Conference is down to just one game. Cleveland next plays on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets at 7 p.m. Friday’s game is the Cavs’ last on their current road trip.