Denver Nuggets 120, Cleveland Cavaliers 103: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

With Jamal Murray tying his career-high of 48 points, he set a new personal best with an exclamation point. The Nuggets’ lead guard drove past two defenders and had a one-handed slam to secure his 50th point. It was that type of night for Murray and his efforts that powered Denver to a 120-103 win over the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

Murray was lights out, missing just four shots, and added six rebounds. Nikola Jokic was also stellar on his 26th birthday, dropping another triple-double with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. He also added four steals in Denver’s win.

"I've been around a lot of great players, I've been in the league for a long time, I've seen many 50-point games. To do it as efficiently as he did is really remarkable," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. 

The Nuggets got off to a sizzling start and rarely looked back. The team started the night off shooting 12-of-12, building a 26-14. A brief cold spell allowed the Cavs to rally, with the team cutting the score to 35-31 in the second quarter. Denver would reassert itself, going on a 16-9 run to take a 51-40 advantage. The visitors would largely stay on cruise control for the rest of the contest.

Here are the takeaways:

Blue Arrow activated

When Murray gets hot, he’s almost impossible to stop. Friday night was a good showcase of it.

According to Statmuse, Murray is the first player in NBA history to score 50 points while hitting eight threes and shooting over 80 percent. Interestingly enough, he’s also the first player to hit that total and not take a single free-throw. Lastly, when also including his 50-point efforts in the playoffs, he is the first Nuggets to have three 50 point outings in franchise history.

"I was just making my shots and it was kind of cool to be making history," Murray said of his night. 

Similar to his magnetic performance against Washington, Murray did most of his damage in the fourth quarter. After putting up 19 in the fourth quarter against the Wizards, he put 20 on a sizzling 8 of 10 shooting against the Cavs in the final 12 minutes of the game. Four of those eight field goals were three-pointers. Murray admitted he fed off the socially distant crowd in Cleveland.

"It was fun to have that atmosphere," he said. "That's what we live for as players and that emotion, that adrenaline, the oohs and ahhs, it's an environment [that is fun]...It was a lot of fun." 

It was an incredible night for the 23-year-old.

Moment of toughness sparks Nuggets

Isaiah Hartenstein might have only played 12 minutes in the Nuggets’ win, but he played a pivotal part in the Nuggets asserting themselves.

With the Cavs cutting a double-digit deficit to just seven in the second quarter, JaVale McGee had a flagrant foul on Michael Porter Jr. as the Nuggets’ forward tried to attack the rim. As the second-year player was getting up, Hartenstein shoved McGee in defense of his teammate, drawing a technical foul. It would be a turning point for Denver as it built a 69-50 lead over Cleveland heading into the break.

Hartenstein would finish the night with two points and three rebounds, but it sequences like that turn around games. One can bet the gesture went a long way within the Nuggets’ locker room.

"I love the fact that Isaiah had Michael's back," Malone said. "I [told] the whole team, 'Someone should pay Isaiah Hartenstein's technical [foul fine], that shouldn't come out of his pocket.' Someone else should pay that because that was a big-time play by him." 

MPJ flashes in the first half

Part of McGee’s foul likely came from just how unguardable Porter Jr. was in the opening 24 minutes. The Nuggets forward would pour in 21 of his 22 points in that span, confounding defenders with a dazzling array of athleticism and long-range shooting. Porter Jr. hit 3 of 5 from downtown and 8 of 11 overall in the first half.

While consistency remains an area where Porter Jr. will need to improve, the stunning first-half display is another example of why he is a valued part of the Nuggets’ future.

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