The Cleveland Cavaliers secured their first winning record since their season opening win after dismantling the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets in a 121-109 victory.
With another lengthy injury report including Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert and Isaac Okoro, the Cavs entered their matchup against Denver severely shorthanded. For the Nuggets, they were missing Jamal Murray once more. In wake of their injuries, the Cavs came out hot and never backed down to the physical Nuggets.
Evan Mobley recorded his ninth double-double in 13 games with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Against a dominant Denver frontcourt, Mobley and Jarrett Allen forced two-time MVP Nikola Jokic into early foul trouble, getting his fifth whistle early in the third quarter. Mobley opened the game with two mid-range shots on target and swiftly found his rhythm off of crafty dishes from his teammates. Additionally, both bigs crashed the boards all night, grabbing 10 more missed shots than Denver.
Allen in particular had an awe-inspiring night, ending it off with a +42 plus-minus and holding Jokic to 18 points, the first game of the 2023-24 campaign in which Jokic did not eclipse 20 points. Although Allen can be questionable in physical matches, he had no fear going head-to-head against the Nuggets. It is rarely possible to contain a player such as Jokic, but Allen managed to slow him down enough to allow his teammates to race ahead on the scoreboard.
As expected, defense was the catalyst for this win, but the Cavaliers showed their ability to transition these defensive stops into a much more versatile offense than last year. Max Strus notched 11 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds as he continues to prove his value instantly after joining the Cavs via sign-and-trade this summer. One of only a few Cavs to appear in every game so far this season, Strus is averaging a career-high in points, assists and rebounds as the starting small forward in Cleveland. Initially, Strus was seen as Cleveland’s answer to 3-point woes, but he has proven to be much more early on.
Coming off the bench, Georges Niang has steadily found his groove with the Cavs. With 12 points on the night, Niang offers reliable floor spacing in the frontcourt for the second unit. Both Strus and Niang were brought in to change the Cavaliers’ offense for the better, and so far they have done just that.
Alongside the stellar work from the frontcourt, Cleveland’s backcourt had two superstar performances in Darius Garland and undrafted rookie from Wichita State Craig Porter Jr. Garland and Porter were the top two scorers on the night for the Cavs, taking advantage of Denver’s disjointed perimeter defense.
Early this season, the five-year college recruit Porter has showcased an unwavering confidence on both ends of the court. As the Cavaliers entered this year hoping to pick up their offensive pace, Porter’s electric playstyle is the team’s best surprise of the season. His 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting came from crafty ball handling and constant off-ball movement.
On a two-way contract, Porter is quickly building a case to join the main roster full-time as a consistent rotation player. With Ricky Rubio’s approved absence and Ty Jerome’s injury, Porter has made the most of his opportunities and could end up ahead of both his counterparts in the bench rotation.
As for Darius Garland, the All-Star point guard dropped a game-high 26 points and rediscovered his masterful skillset that had struggled to reappear at the start of the year. Since being drafted by the Cavs in 2019, Garland has transformed into a leader for this Cleveland squad, setting the tempo every game.
His eight points in the first quarter put the Cavaliers on top from the tip. In addition to his scoring, Garland dished out 6 of the team’s 30 assists. Though he is still struggling with his assist-to-turnover ratio, DG regained his confidence to lead the Cavaliers to their third win in a row. With more time, Garland will almost definitely correct his recent slump. Tonight marks the first step toward that return to form with a powerful statement win against the Nuggets.
In the fourth quarter, the Cavs surged to a season-high 26-point lead behind Garland’s tremendous work. Without his backcourt partner Donovan Mitchell at his side, Garland broke through every defensive scheme the Nuggets through at him either by scoring or finding the open man. Undoubtedly, Garland has taken advantage of the improved 3-point threats on the team in both Max Strus and Georges Niang.
The long 82-game regular season is a test of endurance and willpower. With a sluggish start, the Cavaliers have broken through and will look to snowball this momentum until they are back in the upper ranks of the Eastern Conference. They will face off against the Philadelphia 76ers on the road for their third game in the In-Season Tournament on Tuesday.