CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The 50/40/90 club is an elusive one, with 11 instances from seven total players who averaged 50 percent shooting, 40 percent from 3-point range, and 90 percent from the free throw line for a season.
Replicating that line for a game is not terribly impressive, but doing so as a team is cause for some good feeling. The Denver Nuggets won, 126-117, over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, and had Devin Harris not missed a free throw at the start of the 4th quarter, the victors would have had a 50/40/90 night of their own.
Instead, they had to settle for 54.7 percent from the field (47/86 FG), 54.3% from deep (19/35) and 86.7 percent from the charity stripe (13/15). Seven of the 11 Nuggets that got into the game shot 50 percent or better from the field, and Will Barton (4/10) was the only Nugget who attempted a 3-pointer to shoot under 50 percent.
Naturally, surrendering 126 points would create concern on the other side, as any offense that good is at least somewhat a byproduct of occasional defensive breakdowns.
With four new players trying to learn a new system, the Cavaliers tried to simplify things offensively, but that was not necessarily the case defensively. Occasional lethargy on the defensive end surrendered some wide open looks to the deep stable of Denver marksmen. That in turn led Cavaliers Head Coach Tyronn Lue looking for answers.
“Second half, we went to the blitz and tried to mix it up on them a little bit. It was good at times,” Lue said. “With four shooters on the floor, it’s hard to get back out to shooters. They had it going tonight offensively, so we just tried throwing everything at them. We switched, we blitzed, we showed, did a little bit of everything. They got hot.”
It became apparent that there was still work to be done for the new quartet with occasional lapses in assignment. After cutting the Denver lead from 15 to 1 in the fourth, a failed rotation led to a Paul Millsap 3-pointer that swung momentum back the other way.
The Denver assault stymied the Cavaliers, who were looking to run, and did so successfully whenever they were able to get stops defensively. The home team accumulated 21 fast break points. Those were proved moot by surrendering 14 fastbreak points to their opposition, giving no resistance on a perfect 6-of-6 on the break.
Guard JR Smith said his team came out too relaxed on defense, allowing Denver to get comfortable.
“They pretty much got any shot they wanted without a contest,” he said. “We’re much better when we don’t go under, being more aggressive whether it’s double-teaming or going over the top of screens, that’s just the team we are. If we go under, guys go downhill on the bigs, kick out to threes. That’s what they’re good at. We’ve got to make them work.”
It took JR Smith a little while to get going in his return from a one game suspension from the team. The free-shooting guard did not attempt a shot in the first half, before erupting for a 19-point second half that kept his team in the game.
Smith shot 7-of-12 from the floor and 2-of-5 from deep.
“First half, I came off two dribble hand-offs, got one kicked ball and one double. I wasn’t seeing much opportunity,” Smith said. “Second half, I said ‘To hell with it, be more aggressive. Try to get around them.’ Just different mindset, I guess.”