Nuggets blow 14-point fourth-quarter lead, fall to Cavs in OT

CLEVELAND – If the Nuggets weren’t outright turning it over, then their passes were so off-target they submarined possessions anyway.

The Nuggets blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead Friday night to the Cavaliers and then fell in overtime, 119-116. The loss ended the Nuggets’ three-game road trip (2-1) on a sour note, and they only had themselves to blame.

“Yay, hoorah, two-for-one,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone sarcastically. “We blew a game tonight. That’s the bottom line.”

Denver committed 19 turnovers (for 29 Cleveland points) and gave up 19 second-chance points to squash its chances of winning its 23rd road game of the season – which would’ve been a franchise record.

Bones Hyland missed a 3-pointer with seconds left in overtime that would’ve tied it, but it never should’ve come to that. Cleveland’s roving big man Evan Mobley scored nine of his 27 points in overtime, and Lauri Markkanen buried 31, including six 3-pointers.

“We just gave the game to them like it was candy,” Hyland said.

The Nuggets spoiled Nikola Jokic’s 32-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist night. As a team, they weren’t sharp in the least, including one crucial missed box-out that led to a late Mobley dunk. Aaron Gordon scored 20, but his seven turnovers undermined the production.

“I think we are really good at turning the ball over,” said Jokic, citing careless possessions and not knowing the plays. Often, he said, they overlook the easy pass.

Jokic’s body language dropped with each third-quarter turnover. The Nuggets had six of them in the quarter alone to fuel Cleveland’s break and give the Cavs hope. If it wasn’t dribbling the air out of the basketball, then it was attempting an entry pass from a terrible angle. There was sloppy, disconnected play at every turn.

But, as the Nuggets have learned to do, they know who to find when the offense falters. Jokic dumped in 10 points in the quarter to keep Denver’s lead intact. There was nothing fancy about his production, and the MVP simply lived in the paint. Denver held an 87-78 lead going into the fourth.

Malone was unfazed before the game when asked about surging teams Dallas and Minnesota, who’ve sandwiched the Nuggets as the No. 6 seed the last few weeks.

“Do we look demoralized? We’re 14-4 in our last 18 games,” Malone said. “Control what you can control. … We’re not allowing teams ahead of us or behind us to determine how we approach each game.”

Malone said the team hadn’t even discussed the play-in tournament, which could be a factor if the Nuggets ever cooled off.

Although it wasn’t much, Malone also offered among the most substantive updates on Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray yet. Neither player’s return was imminent, Malone said, but Murray’s two practices in Grand Rapids this week were productive.

According to Malone, they even included some live 5-on-5 work.

“He still has a lot more hurdles to get through,” Malone added.

But among the healthy players, the Nuggets sliced through Cleveland’s defense in the first half to build a 63-52 lead at the break. Jokic, who started relatively slow, finished the first two quarters with 12 points, six assists and five rebounds. Gordon added 12 as well, including a handful of dunks off feeds from Jokic.

It was Denver’s bench, however, that ignited a 15-0 run from the end of the first quarter through the start of the second and busted the game open. Specifically, Hyland drained three 3-pointers, and DeMarcus Cousins knocked down two of his own to extend the lead. Denver’s balance — 36 points in the paint, seven 3-pointers as a team — gave the Nuggets a significant cushion.

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