Portland Trail Blazers (22-4) power forward LaMarcus Aldridge had been sinking mid-range jumpers all night long. The 14-footer that the Western Conference Player of the Week sank with 2:15 remaining in the game sent a handful of Wine & Gold fans heading toward the exit with the Cavs down 114-104.
Then Cleveland Cavaliers (9-15) point guard Kyrie Irving – also known around the shores of Lake Erie as Mr. Fourth Quarter – worked his magic yet again. After hitting a pair of step-back threes and converting on an and-one layup attempt, Cleveland was now within two points of the Trail Blazers. A subsequent stellar defensive possession, and the Cavs were now in position to knot the game up at 116.
With Kyrie driving to the hole cleverly masking a finish at the hoop, Irving dumped the ball off to Anderson Varejao, fooling three Portland defenders in the process. Andy converted, and the game was set to go into overtime with under 10 seconds remaining.
Not so fast. Reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who finished with 36 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, wasn’t quite done with his three-point barrage at the Q. After sinking seven of his first 11 shots from beyond the arc, Lillard had one heave left in the tank: a 30-foot dagger that ended Cleveland’s last-ditch effort at a comeback and sealed a 119-116 victory for the Trail Blazers.
“Give Portland a lot of credit. (Head coach) Terry Stotts is doing a terrific job with that team,” Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown said.
And that statement couldn’t be truer. After coming off of back-to-back road games, the most recent one featuring another buzzer-beating shot by Lillard against the Detroit Pistons, Portland came to Cleveland for their third away matchup in four nights. The Cavs took advantage of the fatigue that the Trail Blazers were surely dealing with early on, jumping out to a nine-point lead in the first quarter thanks to solid efforts from Irving, Andrew Bynum and C.J. Miles. Aldridge and Lillard, however, brought Portland within two before the end of the frame with a 14-8 run. Aldridge’s 11 points and eight rebounds and Lillard’s eight points and five assists in the first quarter was just a preview of what Cleveland would have to deal with defensively all night long. Aldridge ended up finishing with 26 points and 15 rebounds.
In the second quarter, the Wine & Gold continued to attack a weakness that they were starting to expose in the first quarter: a matchup between the physical Bynum and lanky Robin Lopez. Being fed the rock frequently in the paint resulted in 13-first half points and seven boards for the aggressive Bynum and helped Cleveland jump out to a 59-55 lead at the half.
But the Cavs failed to execute on the aforementioned mismatch once the second half got underway.
“We felt like coming out if we attacked the paint, we’d be able to get some good looks,” Brown said of Cleveland’s initial plan of attack. “The reality of it is for us right now as a young team that really hasn’t played with a big like that, we have a tough time getting (Bynum) the ball. Sometimes it brings us to a standstill and makes us stagnant offensively.”
That soon became evident in the second half when Cleveland was losing grips of the game and the lead because of a lackluster rebounding team effort. By the time the third frame came to an end, the Portland frontcourt had totaled 42 rebounds to Cleveland’s 28 and held a 15-8 offensive rebounding advantage over the Cavs. Going into the Tuesday night tilt, Brown did not see this coming.
“The one thing I felt like I can always count on, and hopefully I can count on this going forward, is our ability to rebound. It’s tough to swallow knowing that they had that many offensive rebounds for so many second-chance points,” Brown admitted in the post-game press conference.
As mentioned above, Bynum’s involvement in the Cleveland offense went AWOL. Although the stellar offensive play of Dion Waiters off of the pine (he finished with 25 points and five assists, while shooting 11 of 19 from the field), the game was eventually determined by the effortless rebounding tactics by Cleveland, which resulted in 18 offensive rebounds for Portland.
“I’m sure those offensive rebounds led to kickouts, which led to threes to keep those guys in the game or keep their runs going if they were up,” Brown said.
And boy was that true. Portland, who has shot a high volume of threes this season, put up 33 shots from behind the arc, converting on 45.5 percent of them. This resulted in 35 second-chance points for the Trial Blazers compared to Cleveland’s measly 10.
The notable combined 50-point effort by Waiters and Irving was not enough, however, for the Cavaliers to make a full comeback in the fourth quarter, as the Wine & Gold fell to another superb NBA team in back-to-back games. This was definitely the most fun and intense basketball game that I had watched all season, but it’s getting hard to continue finding moral victories in Cleveland losses.
Cleveland will try to recover from a hard-fought loss on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks (5-19) at Quicken Loans Arena. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
PG Kyrie Irving – 25 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers, while shooting 9 of 22 (40.9 percent) from the field, 3 of 7 from three (42.9 percent) and 4 of 4 from the free throw line.
Irving couldn’t find his stroke early on but came out strong to start the third quarter with eight quick points, doubling his first-half input very quickly. But the main pickup from Irving’s game Tuesday night was his defense. Lillard finished 8 of 12 from three (75 percent), and Kyrie looked lost on the court trying to keep up with the reigning Rookie of the Year. Lillard got the best of Irving (and the whole team) this time, but the breakdowns on defense just can’t happen if Cleveland wants to be able to close out games down the stretch.
SG C.J. Miles – Eight points and 18 minutes, while shooting 4 of 8 from the field
Miles didn’t see much playing time after his great first-quarter start (eight points, 4 of 6 from the field) because of the play of Waiters. But it was very encouraging to see some offensive output and lockdown D early on from C.J. This was his first solid game in a long time.
SF Alonzo Gee – Five points and 18 minutes
O.K., so Gee is never going to be able to pad the stat sheets, so please don’t look to the box score to see how effective the Cavaliers small forward was tonight. Yes, there was nothing he could really do about that Lillard game-winner, but he held his own against Nicolas Batum early on, forcing the Portland small forward to shoot 1 of 7 in the first half as well as picking up on missed defensive assignments by the likes of Irving. He’s been the glue guy for the defense early on, and this was another (quiet) solid outing from Alonzo.
PF Tristan Thompson – 15 points and seven rebounds, while shooting 7 of 11 (63.6 percent) from the field
Even though Tristan finished well at the basket Tuesday night, he was outdone by LaMarcus all night long despite forcing some missed mid-rangers from the onset. This matchup was crucial going into the game, and I don’t think Thompson fit the bill for this specific show.
C Andrew Bynum – 13 point and nine rebounds, while shooting 6 of 12 from the field
As mentioned above, Bynum being uninvolved in the offensive execution in the second half killed the Cavs’ chances of winning this game.
SG Dion Waiters – 25 points, five assists and 31 minutes, while shooting 11 of 19 (57.9 percent) from the field
Some reporter asked Brown if the reason Dion has been playing so well in the past couple weeks is because of the trade rumors surrounding him. Staph. Waiters, although he missed three of his first four drives to the rim, finished the game shooting 66.7 percent from the field. He continues to be aggressive, dish the ball when needed and provide intensity for the Cavaliers off of the bench. This was especially important in outdoing the Portland bench, all by himself. Cleveland outscored the Trail Blazers’ reserves by a mark of 50-16.
I don’t think it was Brown’s fault that Cleveland couldn’t get Bynum the ball in the second half. Portland just adjusted. Robin Lopez was having trouble guarding the Cleveland big and made the proper second-half adjustments to make sure he wouldn’t kill the Blazers in the paint in the second half (Cleveland outscored Portland 48-28 in the paint, but mainly due to the three-point onslaught from TB). Cleveland just wasn’t sticking to their perimeter defensive assignments. Brown seemed extremely disappointed in the press conference because of the poor rebounding efforts by the Cavaliers. The 18 offensive boards resulted in 35 second-chance points (mainly on three-pointers), as the Blazers made good on 70.6 percent of their 17 second-chance shots. Not so much a game plan issue here as it was just a jaded effort from the Cavs as a whole on the boards. And let’s take a moment to bask in Brown’s huge troll of Houston Rockets center Omer Asik last night:
It’s funny to hear people report that Anderson Varejao is getting traded for Omer Asik. If I can’t even pronounce his name, you know it ain’t going to happen. It’s mind-boggling.