CLEVELAND — — Jamal Murray scored a career-high 50 points, All-Star starter Nikola Jokic had a triple-double and the Denver Nuggets adjusted to a schedule change by handing the Cleveland Cavaliers their ninth straight loss, 120-103 on Friday night in a matchup hastily arranged by the NBA due to COVID-19.
Murray hardly missed, making 21 of 25 shots, including 8 of 10 3-pointers. He didn’t attempt a free throw.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, he’s the first player in league history to score 50 or more points without shooting a free throw.
“To do it as efficiently as he did it is really remarkable,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “That’s an incredible stat line.”
With the Cavs still hanging around in the fourth, Murray made three 3-pointers in 65 seconds to push Denver’s lead to 21. He scored 20 in the final quarter before being replaced with 2:23 left.
Not the way Murray was shooting.
Murray celebrated his third straight long-range make — from 33 feet — to open the fourth by pounding his chest and screaming toward fans. He scored Denver’s first 13 in the last quarter, and then passed his previous career best of 46 points by draining another 3 — on Jokic’s 10th assist — with 4 minutes left.
Michael Porter Jr. added 22 points for the Nuggets. On his 26th birthday, Jokic had 16 points and 12 rebounds in getting his seventh triple-double this season.
A stopover in Cleveland was not originally part of Denver’s travel itinerary for a four-game trip. However, when the league postponed three San Antonio games — including one against the Cavs on Wednesday — earlier this week because of virus cases on the Spurs, the Nuggets were re-routed.
They made their first 12 shots, opened a 22-point lead in the second half and then let Murray close out the Cavs.
The Nuggets thrashed the Cavaliers on Feb. 10, beating them by 38 points and prompting Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff to criticize his players for being “embarrassed.” He expected a better effort in the rematch between the teams.
“I hope our guys respond,” he said 90 minutes before tip.
Cleveland played better, but didn’t have enough firepower to stay with the Nuggets.
Nuggets: F JaMychal Green injured his left shoulder running through a pick in the first minute. … Green was starting for Paul Millsap, who sat out his third game in a row with a sprained left knee. … Jokic is the Nuggets’ first All-Star starter since Carmelo Anthony in 2011 and the third Denver player since 1976-77 to be selected to three consecutive games, joining Alex English and David Thompson. Jokic learned of his All-Star nod while the team was having dinner Thursday night. Coach Michael Malone was moved by the “genuine excitement” everyone felt for Jokic, who is posting career highs across the board.
Cavaliers: F Taurean Prince missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. … F Kevin Love (strained calf) took part in practices the past few days and is nearing a return after missing most of the season. He’s been out since Dec. 27. … Cleveland’s starters did not record a rebound in the first quarter.
Nuggets: Continue what became a five-game trip Sunday at Charlotte.
Cavaliers: Host Oklahoma City on Sunday.