Denver: LeBron James was knocking down shots no matter the angle, the degree of difficulty, the distance or the number of hands in his face.
Closing time just brings the best out in him. Still, as teammate Larry Nance Jr aptly said of all James’ off-balanced makes: “It was ridiculous.”
James scored 39 points, including nine down the stretch, and dished out 10 assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Denver Nuggets 113-108 on Wednesday night after squandering a 16-point, first-half lead.
“I just tried to implement my imprint on the game by just closing it out for us,” James said.
He certainly did that.
James made one off-balanced shot after another in the waning minutes to turn back the Nuggets, who didn’t take their first lead of the game until 8:35 remaining on a driving layup by Mason Plumlee. Jeff Green gave Cleveland the lead for good minutes later with a 3-pointer on a play set up by James after he tapped a loose ball out to him.
It was that kind of night for James. He made a deep 3-pointer with 1:11 remaining, thumping himself in the chest with two fists in exuberance.
“That’s why he’s the best in the league right now,” said Nikola Jokic, who had a monster game with 36 points and 13 rebounds.
James wound up two rebounds shy of a triple-double to help the Cavs kick off a six-game trip in fine fashion. No matter what the Nuggets tried to slow him down, nothing worked. James was in that kind of rhythm.
“Those are shots that as a defender you just turn around to your coach and go, like, ‘Sorry,’” Nance said. “It was incredible.”
Nance once again was in the starting line-up with big men Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson sidelined with injuries. Nance scored 13 points and grabbed 13 boards.
James was fuelled in part by a 126-117 home loss to Denver last Saturday. He said in the morning shootaround: “You always want to try to give some giveback.”
The Nuggets started out sluggish — trailing by 16 in the second quarter — as playing on the second night of a back-to-back caught up with them. They rebounded, though just a little too late in losing for a second straight night. They dropped a costly game at Dallas on Tuesday to tighten an already tight playoff chase.
“Everybody is talking play-off, play-off, play-off,” Jokic said. “But we need to think about the next game.”