CLEVELAND — “The Monsters” scared the seven-game winning streak out of the Denver Nuggets.
Big men Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao combined for 35 points and 34 rebounds Wednesday night as the Cavaliers downed Denver 98-88 in front of 14,642 satisfied fans at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavs (6-12) now have their first two-game winning streak since April 5-7 of last season, while Denver (11-7), which is in the middle of a six-game road trip, lost for the first time since Nov. 18.
“To get 34 rebounds between two guys is an absolutely amazing night for our bigs,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “They were monsters tonight. They were monsters on the pick-and-roll. They were monsters on the glass. They were monsters around the rim.
“That type of effort was awesome. It was awesome to watch.”
Thompson finished with 17 points and a career-high 21 rebounds in 34 minutes, while Varejao came off the bench to score a season-high 14 points and tie his season high with 13 rebounds in just 28 minutes.
“It’s our role as bigs,” said Thompson, who also blocked three shots. “We’ve got to come out every night and rebound, play hard and defend.”
Toss in 7-foot, 294-pound Andrew Bynum, who had 14 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes, and Cleveland’s three big men totaled 49 points and 41 rebounds.
Former Cav J.J. Hickson, who is 6-9 but starts at center for Denver, had 15 points and 11 rebounds, but had to be taken out of the game in the first and third periods because he couldn’t stop Bynum, who outweighs him by more than 50 pounds.
Normal Nuggets hustle man Kenneth Faried, meanwhile, mustered just seven points and four boards in 19 minutes while getting totally outplayed by Thompson.
“The key was to play aggressive offensively,” said Varejao, who matched Thompson with three blocks. “We knew we were going against J.J. and Faried. They’re kind of undersized. We knew they could run the floor, but we knew we had some advantage in the post.”
Thompson (9), Bynum (4) and Varejao (3) also combined for 16 offensive rebounds, which led to a 23-11 Cleveland advantage in second-chance points.
Beyond that, it prevented the Nuggets, who began the night as the fourth-highest scoring team in the league at 105.3 a game, from running. Forced to play half-court, Denver shot just .391 from the field — point guard Ty Lawson was 1-for-13 — and matched its season low in scoring.
“It was a pretty good night defensively,” Brown said. “That’s where our strength is.”
The Cavs, who also got 23 points from Kyrie Irving, recorded their largest margin of victory since beating Toronto 103-92 on Feb. 27.
Other than allowing a 12-point lead to get whittled to four in the closing moments of the first half, Cleveland never had a lull and led the entire second half.
“It was really encouraging because, if you think about it, while we’re going through all this, we’re learning how to win,” Brown said. “We’re trying to figure ourselves out. While we’re doing that, we’re trying to figure out what it means to win.”
A two-game win streak is modest, but it appears the Cavs may be starting to understand what it takes.
Irving had 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the first half — he was 2-for-9 after intermission — as Cleveland took a lead it never relinquished.
Instead of playing not to lose, the Cavs attacked the basket in the fourth quarter and the undersized Nuggets had no choice but to foul, which resulted in Cleveland getting into the penalty 4:08 into the period.
The Cavs shot just .407 from the field for the game, but they outrebounded Denver 58-43 and didn’t surrender many easy points while blocking 13 shots as a team.
“Their bigs just beat up on our bigs is what it came down to,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson inside just wore us down.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.