After getting news earlier in the week that Anderson Varejao would be out for 6-8 weeks, the Cavaliers tried to mentally prepare for a tough five-game road trip. Denver was their first stop, and they came out firing on all cylinders leading by 11 at half, but as is par for the course this season, they were flat in the second half and lost 98-91.
The 9-29 Cavaliers team knew they had put themselves in a huge hole this season, but this young team still believed they can make a run at an eight-seed in the playoffs. Once news came down that Varejao would no be returning anytime soon, this battle seemed much more difficult.
Instead of letting pessimism dominate the mindsets, Cleveland rallied around each other and went right after the 22-6 Nuggets.
Lead by Kyrie Irving, who finished with 28 points and seven assists, Cleveland won the first and second quarters. They were up 56-45 heading into the second half. Denver hit the floor hard in the second half, and with the help of an 11-0 run, cut the lead to four by the end of the third quarter.
With five minutes remaining in the fourth frame the Nuggets took the lead 87-85. The two squads traded a couple baskets, leading to an 89-89 tie. With 1:48 remaining Gallinari nailed a three that would end up completing the Nuggets rally, and decide the game.
"It happens over and over," Coach Byron Scott said of Cleveland's second half woes. "I'm tired of us giving games away and that's what we did tonight. They came out aggressive and we were on our heels the rest of the half. If we would have matched their aggressiveness, the way they came out, it could have been a different story."
Varejao's absence was exploited by Kosta Koufos all night. The former Buckeye dominated the paint and finished with a career-high 21 points.
The most notable statistical difference between the two squads was in the rebounding category. Without Andy, the league's former league-leading rebounder, the Cavaliers were out-rebounded 56-35.
Tristan Thompson had been filling the rebounding void, but only managed to grab seven. He did contribute 16 points, however. C.J. Miles had 11 points, and also had seven boards.
One high note was Dion Waiters, who had another impressive performance off the bench. The rookie out of Syracuse finished with 18 points. Starter Alonzo Gee only had two points, and it is a wonder why Waiters is not starting in his place. Currently Cleveland's starting five consists of two strong forwards, but no shooting guard. Dion Waiters should start in place of Alonzo Gee Sunday when the Cavs visit the struggling Lakers.
The game Sunday tips off at 9:30 pm EST.
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