Cavs Fall Apart Late in Loss to Nuggets. Troubling Sign or One Bad Game?

LeBron refereeNuggets 99, Cavaliers 97 [Box]

Well that was not too much fun to watch. Coming into the contest, hopes were high as the Cavs looked to gain a game on the major four powers in the NBA. Earlier in the day filled with great basketball action, the Lakers, Celtics, Magic and Spurs all lost their games, giving Cleveland a late-night opportunity to gain some ground on all of these elite teams. Instead however, the Cavs laid a goose egg of a performance at the Pepsi Center in Colorado, collapsing late while playing sloppy offense throughout.

For the second time in as many Western Conference road trips, the Cleveland Basketball Cavaliers began by playing one of the top-tier teams in the other conference that was missing a star player. Dirk Nowitzki was not on the court when Tim Thomas and the resilient Mavs took down Cleveland in Dallas and this time, the Nuggets were without both Carmelo Anthony and rookie sensation Ty Lawson. That would not matter again tonight, as LeBron James had one of the worst performances of the year (despite finishing with 35 points, six rebounds and seven assists) and the Cavaliers blew a three-point lead with less than two minutes to go.

Starting from the top, the Cavs looked tired, uninspired and confused defensively against Kenyon Martin and Denver during the first quarter. Chauncey Billups returned from an injury to ignite the offense as Mo Williams could not keep up with him on the defensive side of the court. That was a mismatch the team used all evening as Denver raced to a 30-24 first quarter advantage. For some background, the Cavs had been winning first quarters by an average margin of 28.0-25.0 coming into the game and are now just 4-4 on the road when trailing after the first period.

Surprisingly, the Cavaliers were then able to cut at the Denver lead in the second without the help of the overachieving LeBron James. A pair of layups by Jawad Williams, some Z jumpers as well as some impressive defense by Delonte West were the catalysts as the Cavs regained the lead in taking a 49-48 lead at the break. Denver’s offense was never really able to get into a groove in that quarter unlike the first, often going long stretches of possessions without any points at all.

As a close game on the road however, the one-point half time advantage for the visitors hardly meant anything. The contest would come down to the wire yet again. Despite this fact that everyone in the building and everyone back at home knew it would come down to the closing minutes, it still was fun to watch the Cavs build up their biggest lead of the game late in the third quarter. Trailing 67-61 and with Shaquille O’Neal out of the game with five fouls, the Cavs went on a shocking three-and-a-half minute 11-0 run to take a five-point lead that later became four heading into the fourth. It was the first instance all game that the Cavaliers had actually taken complete control of the game but it would also be the last time as well.

Now here is where the LeBron James stats come into play. Overall for the game, he took 28 field goal attempts, had eight turnovers and in the second half, shot the ball 18 against only one assist for himself. I don’t care how many points he puts up or how well his defense/rebounding is doing, but that is not the recipe for a Cleveland victory on the road. In fact, it was the sixth time in his career including playoffs that he ended up with the magic combination of 28 FGA’s and 8 TO’s, and the Cavs are now 1-5 in those games. Poor performance by LBJ in this one, especially considering his only two three’s were in the closing seconds.

Piecing apart the ending of this game, the Cavs had a three-point lead following a clutch driving layup by LeBron with 1:51 left in the game. Things were looking great for the road team at that point, maintaining a narrow advantage for the last several minutes thanks to some clutch shot-making despite no offensive flow. Things turned upside down after that as UCLA product Arron Aflalo nailed a three from the corner to tie the game as Mo Williams fell to the floor on a hard screen right in front of the play. The very next trip down, an Andy Varejao offensive foul led to a Kenyon Martin field goal and 36 seconds later, J.R. Smith hit the dagger with a bomb from Mile High Stadium to complete the eight-point turnaround.

A costly turnover, a poor shot by LeBron, two three pointers allowed and Martin’s first points of the second half turned a 91-88 Cavs lead into a 96-91 Nuggets advantage. LeBron then stepped out of bounds for the third time in the contest on the next possession, gift wrapping this one of the banged up and bruised Denver squad. It was a depressing end to the game and a rare sight for one of the best fourth quarter teams in the NBA led by the best fourth quarter player in the league, but an occurrence that happens to all teams throughout the long season. The big question for the Cavs will be how they respond on Sunday as they continue their road trip against the opportunistic and pesky Portland Trailblazers.

(The picture above is via AP Photo/David Zalubowski. It is of LeBron James complaining to referee Bennie Adams, a common occurrence during last night’s fourth quarter debacle.)

  • Matt

    Stats or not to back it up, I would never call LeBron the league’s “best fourth quarter player.” The guy simply isn’t clutch in the way many of his contemporaries and predecessors have been

  • Matt

    BTW, I’m not worried about this game at all. They were set to win under 2 minutes. As I said in the Open Blog a few below, the Cavs were lackluster, but you do have to give credit to Denver for knocking down those Js in crunch time too…

  • phil m

    Watched the whole game and saw no real “troubling signs.” It was well contested by the home team, and you can’t win ’em all.

    Then again, I was disappointed again by Z’s weak defensive presence around the basket. He seems not to be able to position himself quickly enough between the basket and his opponent. I have a lot of respect for Z as a man and even as a player, but I am not sure that he fits this team like he used to. Do we really need a center to take 3-point shots and who often lets the opposing team dominate him in the paint? There’s been a lot of talk of shipping him off, for instance, to Washington for Antawn Jamison. If such a deal were a possibility, I’d say make it in a heartbeat. The team does not owe any player dogged loyalty, including Z, who has played more games as a Cav than anyone. It’s a competitive sports organization, not a sorority. Z had a genuine chance to win the title last year in Cleveland, and he came up short against Orlando.

  • boogeyman

    The only reason the Cavaliers were in that game as long as they were was because of #23 so I can somehow manage to overlook the shot attempts and turnovers. It would have been nice to see Mo Williams show up but once again when it comes to playing an opposing PG who has some skill Mo seemed to disappear into the background.

    All this said I think it was just a bad game. Denver deserves credit for winning without Carmello. That being said I still stick by the Cavaliers needing a starting PF i.e. a David West, Antwan Jamison, Troy Murphy or maybe Al Jefferson because they have virtually no inside presence. When Shaq is out Z is like having a third or fourth guard and we know Anderson Verajo can’t score so if he’s out there that means all you have is really LBJ, Mo and maybe Parker (who in my opinion isn’t used anywhere near enough given his abilities) to score.

  • Jack

    The refs were atrocious at key moments. Every time someone made contact with Billups they picked up a foul. Mo was taken right out of his game early by terrible tick-tack calls.

    That moving screen on the game-tying three was terrible.

    Then they called a much less offensive (no pun intended) foul on Anderson on his move inside.

    The no continuation for Andy; two bad traveling calls. It was bizarre.

    I usually don’t say much about the refs, but last night was terrible.

  • Jack

    Oh, and if no one noticed, the bonus MURDERED the Cavs on three consecutive possessions.

  • historycat

    Having watched the first half then listened to the 2nd it kind of gave me a different perspective.

    Joe did mention some questionable calls, but he really made it seem like the Cavs couldn’t put the game away when they had the chance. Melo wasn’t playing so it sounded like the Cavs played down to their opponents again. As he said last night “You can’t give up 30 points in the first quarter and the 4th quarter and expect to win.”

  • Pissed off fan

    The refs in this game were so bias against the cavs that both teams would have been better off without them. This is clearly shown by the situation with the “goal tending.” Same exact action however nuggets were given the free throw. There are numberous other events CLEARLY showing this item.

    Now however i will say that the cavs did not play there best game and if the score had been 110 Nuggets to 100 cavs i would be happy. But the score if you corect for themistakes on the refs on both sides should have been 102 Nuggets 114 Cavs. The Refs in this game were uneducated and very bias.

    Replay this game with different refs, and the cavs would have won no doubt.

  • Matt

    If LeBron isn’t the best 4th quarter player in the league, who is? And if you aren’t going to use stats to back it up, what will you use?

  • Matt

    and before you say kobe, just know that there is overwhelming evidence that lebron is a more efficient shooter (for all shots, including 3s), has a higher rebounding rate, a higher assist rate, a better defensive rating, and gets to the line more than kobe…
    ok, ready, go…

  • Denny

    Refs might not have been good but crying about it is exactly the problem that the team had. No point in crying about the refs, because all that does for the Cavs and the fans is losing th game.

  • Todd

    No excuses, the Cavs played poorly last night, but I agree that the refs called a bad game. They blew the whistle on both ends of the floor so often it was annoying. Weak traveling calls, non-calls on hard fouls, and calling Bron-Bron out of bounds three times! I’m not saying the man is perfect, but not letting the teams play ultimately worked out in the Nuggs favor.

  • mike

    ehhh – im not going to over analyze one single game like this. denver is notorious for being one of the toughest road games in the league because of the altitude. denver is a really good team, even without carmelo. cavs just didnt pull it off. on the bright side, this was an odd night where the cavs, celtics, lakers and magic all lost. no biggie.

  • Matt

    Never underestimate Jamario’s presence either. His absence hurts us a lot, imo.

  • AMC

    The lack of another legitimate scorer cost the cavs this game and will cost them the season if they don’t add it. Paging dr. Jamison, dr. Jamison to the cleveland clinic courts please.