Takeaways: Denver Nuggets 115-109 win vs Cleveland Cavaliers

Feb 23, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) throws a pass against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley (4) in the second quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) throws a pass against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley (4) in the second quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

The anticipation couldn’t be higher for Nuggets fans as they anxiously awaited the return of Mile High Basketball following the All-Star break. At Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse fans would get their wish as the Nuggets got down to serious business in Cleveland. With the first of three games in four nights for Denver, the Nuggets wanted to stay ahead of the rest of the West with a road win.

First Quarter

The game started clunky as both teams got their bearings after being off for the All-Star break. Vlatko Cancar stayed hot from outside and showed why he is a trustworthy replacement for Aaron Gordon while he tends to injured ribs. The rim and the refs were unkind to Michael Porter Jr. as he found himself working hard early on with little to show for it after a three-pointer rimmed out and he didn’t get a seemingly obvious call at the rim.

Nikola Jokic has been stepping up lately in games where the Nuggets need to show grit and this night was no different. Jokic fought hard for rebounds and got himself to the line repeatedly. Denver realized in order to score in this game, it would take a bit of dazzle and flair. Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope exhibited their flashy ability to adjust at the bucket. The Blue Arrow showed hustle at 6:24 in the first quarter, diving on the floor and getting kicked in the head for a loose ball that he whipped to MPJ for an easy dunk. Murray passed Antonio McDyess for 11th all-time on the Nuggets scoring list tonight with his eight first half points.

Once the Nuggets got comfortable, the triples started to fall, with Big Honey as the catalyst. Both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. snapped home three-pointers off a quick rebound and outlet from Jokic, keeping his eyes down the court just like fans of the MVP are used to seeing. Jokic’s rebounding on the offensive end combined with the sharp-shooting of Murray from distance kept Denver comfortably ahead as the first quarter wound down.

Second Quarter

The Nuggets’ second unit looked putrid offensively to begin the second quarter, with veteran Jeff Green and new addition Reggie Jackson keeping Denver afloat as Cleveland fired away on the other end, creeping ever-closer. Dunkle Jeff stayed true to his name with an energetic jam just when the Cavs were surging. Denver’s rebounding and toughness seemed to be the reason for their lead early on in the second quarter.

Fouls and missed shots came pouring in during the second quarter and the rim was doing the Nuggets no favors. Every point they scored, Denver worked hard for, including a tough rebound and put-back by Vlatko Cancar. Evan Mobley went to work once the starters returned and Cleveland grabbed the 47-45 lead with 2:27 remaining in the first half. Denver would need every one of their clutch three-pointers to fall in the first half, clinging to a gush of three-point scoring from KCP and Michael Porter Jr. as their safety valve and using their advantage at the free-throw line to head into the locker room only trailing by one, with the score 57-56.

Third Quarter

The Nuggets went back to the mid-range and stuck to what they know best. Nothing fancy. Both teams seemed baited into taking terrible shots and that may have been due to the All-Star layoff. Cold streaks were met by scoring blowouts all night and it was hard to get a feel for the game. It’s as if the basketball was lopsided.

The Cavs looked toward paint domination to take control in the second half, using the offensive boards to punish the Nuggets and take a 74-67 lead with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter. Nikola Jokic registered the 98th triple-double of his young career on a dart to MPJ in the corner and continues to stack up an incredible resume as the Nuggets’ stalwart center. Porter Jr. and Murray awoke with 3:47 remaining in the third and tied things at 80.

Nikola Jokic’s tenacity and refusal to quit kept the Nuggets breathing and the second unit held Denver’s last breathe as the fourth quarter approached. Good defense kept Donovan Mitchell at bay while Jokic rested on the bench and Reggie Jackson drew a crucial fourth foul on Evan Mobley with :13.7 remaining in the third. The return of Mitchell cannot be understated and his converted and-one opportunity with :01.7 left in the quarter can attest to that. However, veteran guard Reggie Jackson’s heave would hit paydirt just before the buzzer to keep the Nuggets alive, only down two.

Fourth Quarter

Donovan Mitchell remained a menace on the offensive end and showed Reggie Jackson what it’s like to be on the wrong side of a blender with a converted three-point play with 10:02 remaining. Thomas Bryant battled but seemed to get the short end of the stick tonight in his efforts. Bryant picked up frustrating offensive fouls but did chip in six rebounds in relief effort of Jokic.

Denver ratcheted up the defensive work as the minutes dwindled in the fourth quarter. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continued his hot shooting from deep and Reggie Jackson showed stones fighting for a loose ball. Confusion during hectic sequences led to a three-point Cavs lead with 6:27 remaining.

Murray and Jokic continued their two-man game progression on the offensive end with pretty bounce passes and fluid decisions at the point of attack. MPJ and Jokic added a pair of troikas to nab the 109-107 lead with 3:57 left in the game. Porter Jr. was unafraid as the game got tight, crushing the lane with disregard and matching Cleveland’s intense energy on both ends.

The Nuggets got another enormous three from MPJ to lead all Nuggets scorers with 25. If Denver gets that type of production from a healthy Porter Jr. the rest of the West’s greatest fears will come true. MPJ can turn a game upside-down with his scoring prowess from deep. Defense and rebounding would seal the deal late and Denver would leave Cleveland with a 115-109 win. The Nuggets will now turn their attention to Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night.