Nuggets can’t overcome Nikola Jokic’s foul trouble against Cavaliers, lose fourth consecutive road game

CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers were missing two of their three leading scorers, but then again, the Nuggets were missing their two best players, it turned out.

That wasn’t the plan, but it’s how a 121-109 loss to the depleted Cavs unraveled Sunday. Already missing the hamstring-strained Jamal Murray, the Nuggets were battling uphill against Nikola Jokic’s foul trouble all night as they erased one double-digit deficit but failed to overcome another. The result was their fourth consecutive road loss and their first time losing back-to-back games since Games 3 and 4 of their second-round playoff series to Phoenix in May.

Donovan Mitchell, inescapably intertwined with Murray ever since their electrifying battles in the 2020 bubble, fittingly missed the game with an identical injury to the same ankle, while Caris LeVert was also ruled out before tip. Without them, the Cavaliers were still more than capable against the defending champions, led by 26 points from point guard Darius Garland and 21 from Craig Porter Jr.

Late in the third quarter, with multiple Denver rookies playing and Jokic still sidelined as Michael Malone started to take into account that a back-to-back looms in Detroit on Monday, Garland called off his teammates for an isolation against Julian Strawther. He received a valuable experience from the All-Star guard, who blew by for an easy driving layup. That was a summation of the night for the Nuggets (9-4), who struggled to guard Garland and five other double-digit scorers regardless of the matchup.

Second-chance points were 19-4 in Cleveland’s favor. Points in the paint were 56-46, Cavs.

Jokic finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 27 minutes, his fewest this season. A looming potential issue for most of the first half snowballed into a game-defining snag after the intermission, when Jokic committed his fourth and fifth fouls on consecutive Denver possessions. The second of those offensive fouls, especially, played out like an act of defiance by Jokic, doubling down on his physical post-up style and getting rewarded with a flagrant. He went to the bench for the last 7:32 of the quarter.

After Jokic picked up his second foul with 2:19 left in the first, Malone got weird with a new small-ball lineup: two point guards (Reggie Jackson and Jalen Pickett), two shooting guards (Christian Braun and Justin Holiday) and Zeke Nnaji, who originally checked in to play the four.

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Source:: The Denver Post – Sports


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