Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ best performance of the season brought an end to the Denver Nuggets’ seven-game winning streak.
Irving scored 23 points and the Cavaliers won back-to-back games for the first time this season with a 98-88 victory over Denver Wednesday night.
Tristan Thompson had a career-high 21 rebounds and 17 points for Cleveland, which handed Denver its first loss since Nov. 18. The Nuggets played the third game of a six-game road trip, which began with a 14-point win in Toronto on Sunday and a 24-point victory in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
"They just whupped us tonight," Denver coach Brian Shaw said. "They looked like the fresher team and they were quicker to the punch."
Randy Foye led Denver with 16 points, while J.J. Hickson had 15 points and 11 rebounds, but the Nuggets couldn’t contend with Cleveland’s balanced attack. Anderson Varejao scored a season-high 18 points and had 13 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who recorded their largest margin of victory this season.
While the Nuggets have been one the league’s hottest teams, the Cavaliers have struggled to adjust to new coach Mike Brown’s system. Cleveland already has lost seven games by double figures, but a win over Chicago on Saturday and its latest victory produced some confidence.
"Winning is the thing that cures everything," Brown said.
"We came out aggressive on both ends of the floor and that’s what coach Brown has been preaching," Irving said. "It’s paying dividends. It starts with the way we practice and carries over into games."
Denver trailed by 12 points in the second quarter, but finished the first half on a 10-2 run and cut the lead to two early in the third period. The Nuggets got no closer, however, as the Cavaliers stretched the lead to double figures. The margin reached 13 early in the fourth.
Andrew Bynum, coming off his best game of the season, had 14 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. The 7-footer had 20 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocked shots Saturday against the Bulls in a 97-93 win. Bynum, Thompson and Varejao combined for 41 of Cleveland’s 58 rebounds.
"They were monsters in the pick-and-roll," Brown said. "They were monsters on the glass. They were monsters around the rim. It was awesome to watch."
Thompson had nine rebounds in nine minutes in the first quarter. He had 11 points and 13 rebounds in the first half.
"Tristan Thompson had his season averages at halftime," Shaw said. "This was a good lesson for our bigs. When you’re playing against bigger guys like him and Bynum, you’ve got to put a body on them."
Despite being 6-12, the Cavaliers haven’t fallen too far from the pack in the Eastern Conference, where only Indiana and Miami are over .500.
"That’s the good thing about being in the East right now and I’m sure every other team feels the same, but we truly believe we haven’t played our best basketball," Brown said. "Contrary to what anybody believes I do feel like we’re getting better."
Nate Robinson scored 14 points and Wilson Chandler added 13 for the Nuggets.
Denver got off to a slow start playing its third game in four nights. The Cavaliers led by seven points on several occasions in the first quarter and stretched the lead to 12 in the second. Cleveland led 54-42 with 1:51 remaining in the second, but Denver scored 10 of the half’s final 12 points, highlighted by Lawson’s three-point play, a 3-pointer by Foye and four points by Darrell Arthur.
Lawson’s basket accounted for his first points of the game. He came into Wednesday averaging a team-high 20.2 points, but finished with four points on 1-of-13 shooting.
"I feel like I missed all easy shots," said Lawson, who had 11 assists. "I ain’t never shot 1 for 13 before in my life."
Bynum was given a flagrant foul for hitting Hickson in the shoulder in the third quarter while the Denver forward was driving to the basket.
The Nuggets had won six of the previous seven meetings with the Cavaliers and three straight on the road.
Denver reserve center Timofey Mozgov had eight points and three rebounds in 17 minutes one night after grabbing a career-high 20 rebounds to go with 17 points against the Nets. He totaled 33 points and 35 rebounds against Brooklyn and Toronto.
NOTES: Robinson played despite re-injuring his right wrist Tuesday. X-rays after the game were negative. Robinson shot a free throw left-handed against the Nets. … Robinson was given a technical in the second quarter after a foul wasn’t called when he was knocked to the floor while taking a shot. … Nuggets G Andre Miller was hit with a technical in the third quarter. … Cleveland G Dion Waiters, who had scored at least 20 points in each of his last three games, had five points and six assists. … Denver’s road trip continues against Boston on Friday.