CLEVELAND | Kevin Love scored 27 points, hitting the go-ahead basket with four minutes remaining, and the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers surprised the Denver Nuggets for the second time this season, 104-102 on Saturday night.
Collin Sexton scored 25 points and Matthew Dellavedova had a career-high 14 assists to help Cleveland end a four-game losing streak.
The Cavaliers, playing without center Andre Drummond and rookies Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr., went on 10-0 run after trailing 93=92.
Tristan Thompson missed two free throws with 20 seconds left, but Jamal Murray missed a fadeaway baseline jumper as time ran out.
Love missed badly on his first two shots — both 3-pointers — to start the game, but more than made up for it by carrying the Cavaliers down the stretch.
“Mostly it was just me being off-balance,” he said about his slow start. “If you wouldn’t have known any better you would have thought I was drunk.”
Love missed a 26-foot jumper on Cleveland’s first possession and followed with a 32-footer, joking that both almost damaged the backboard.
“I don’t think I’ve ever started a game where I hit the American flag and hit Jerry West (logo) back-to-back,” he said. “That was absolutely brutal … I actually just had to laugh it off.”
The Cavaliers have the worst record in the Eastern Conference, but beat the Nuggets, who have the third-best record in the West in both meetings this season. Cleveland won 111-103 win in Denver on Jan. 11.
“That was a fun one,” Love said, a point of view that Murray didn’t share.
“We got swept by the Cavs,” he said. “It hurts. You’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror because it hurts.”
Murray made the game-winning shot Thursday against Charlotte, but came up short this time as his jumper hit off the rim, capping the bad loss.
Love and Dellavedova hit key 3-pointers when Cleveland built its late lead. Dellavedova, starting for the second straight game with Garland out, sparked a third-quarter surge with lob passes that resulted in dunks on consecutive possessions by Thompson and Alfonso McKinnie.
Sexton continued his hot hand after scoring a career-high 41 points against Boston on Wednesday night. The second-year guard was 11 of 19 from the field.
Will Barton led Denver with 22 points. Gary Harris had 18, and Murray 17.
Denver coach Michael Malone was hit with a technical foul in the third quarter during a stretch that saw Cleveland go ahead.
Murray hit a 3-pointer from 36 feet to end the first quarter in which Denver made 13 of 22 shots.
Drummond was out again with a strained left calf and has missed five of the last six games. Drummond participated in practice Friday and coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he’s close to returning.
Thompson, who had 13 rebounds, and McKinnie returned for Cleveland. Thompson started at center after missing three games with a bruised left knee. McKinnie was out five games because of left foot plantar fasciitis.
Nuggets: Rookie F Michael Porter Jr. entered in the second quarter after being benched against Charlotte, scoring seven points in 16 minutes. … G Troy Daniels was in uniform for the first time since signing with Denver two days earlier, but didn’t play. The seventh-year pro averaged 4.2 points in 41 games before being released by the Lakers.
Cavaliers: Cedi Osman scored 20, hitting 5 of 6 3-point attempts. … Porter is in concussion protocol after being injured Wednesday. Garland (strained left groin) missed his third straight game and will be out Sunday against San Antonio.
Malone admitted the Nuggets had a tough loss and continue to beat themselves, something the coach is tired of seeing. Denver is 4-5 in its last nine games.
“Who are we?” he said. “That’s a decision we have to think long and hard about. On defense, we don’t point, we don’t talk, we don’t match. You have to participate in your own recovery, right? Our transition defensive lapses are so egregious in nature — lob, dunk, a coast-to-coast drive.”
Dellavedova played 31 minutes and ran the offense well, but preferred to talk about the team’s effort rather than his assist numbers.
“It’s important that we got the win,” he said. “It’s a good reward for the hard work we’ve been putting in. We played hard the other night short-handed (against Boston), but didn’t have enough to get over the line. We batted defensively and shared the ball enough.”
Nuggets: Host Milwaukee on Monday night.
Cavaliers: Host San Antonio on Sunday night.