The defending champion Denver Nuggets, minus Jamal Murray (hamstring) and Vlatko Čančar (who suffered a torn ACL in FIBA competition), rolled into Cleveland for a bout with the undermanned Cavaliers. Without its lead guard, the visitors’ offense only got efficient contributions from Michael Porter Jr., Reggie Jackson and Nikola Jokić while the game was still competitive.
Impressively, without its top perimeter defenders Caris LeVert and Isaac Okoro available for full-court press or to hound Reggie Jackson, Cleveland’s defense stifled the champs and the Cavaliers won 121-109. How did they do it?
Jokić mainly got to work against single coverage in the first half, posting up Jarrett Allen and Co. At intermission, he had 10 points on five-of-seven shooting with six rebounds and six assists.
In the third quarter, the Joker picked up two fouls two seconds apart, pushing him to five. The latter was a flagrant foul committed against Allen, catching him with an elbow to the head on a post spin. With the reigning Finals MVP benched, Cleveland extended its lead to 17 points and permitted just four of 12 field goals to fall for the rest of the third.
Jokić started the fourth quarter but Denver’s coach Michael Malone waved the white flag halfway through the interval. The rest was a formality that left Malone upset.
Malone said his team didn’t play hard enough. “With no Donovan Mitchell and no Caris LeVert, [it was a] great opportunity to get a win on the road and we just kind of acted like we can just show up and play. The greatest disappointment with tonight’s stat sheet was the rebounding…”