All things considered, that was not a bad game at all. If you're tempted to get down about the loss remember that we were without our two starting forwards, one of whom is an absolute linchpin to this teams' success. We were on the road against a team with a 96.8% winning percentage at home. We were facing arguably the best player in the game, or at least the League MVP this year. We were playing on the second night of a road back-to-back. All of this and we took the Cavaliers into overtime. That, my friends, was a job well done regardless of the outcome. It was almost an extremely special night. At least we got a glimpse.
I thought we did a magnificent job against LeBron James...as well as could have been done. The storyline for the game will start with The King's triple-double, but that ignores the fact that through three quarters we had him reeling. In the first quarter he wasn't aggressive at all. He was trying to get other teammates involved and likely they thought they could cruise a little against the Blazers tonight. When their offense died on the vine he started to get more active. But the Blazer game plan (and credit the coaches heavily with this) was to burn fouls every time he got in the paint. Our centers clubbed him like they were playing Whack-a-Mole. After a few of those he was staying out on the perimeter more. Yes he got his foul shots, but Roy got just as many so they didn't kill us. It wasn't until the fourth quarter and overtime that he really stepped up. That's just when he needed to, of course, but I guarantee the Cavs' game plan didn't include a tight game down the stretch and an extra period. We forced him to have to step up. Our tired legs couldn't begin to handle his super mojo in the closing minutes, but whatever. That's why he's LeBron.
I was also impressed by the way the Blazers manufactured offense in the closing period. The Cavs were awake and alert, fully cognizant that they were in a real game by then. Portland sported Roy and a bunch of guys you don't usually depend on to step up. Yet Portland outscored Cleveland 29-21 in the fourth because they found the open man, got smart shots, and hit them. You could almost hear the Cavs asking, "When does the part come where you start missing and we pull away?" Not until overtime. That was a playoff-like performance.
I really liked the defensive effort tonight, especially since it endured through almost every substitution we made. I'm used to seeing guys like Frye, Fernandez, and Outlaw on the court and watching us give up streaks of points. Didn't really happen tonight. Loved that.
Except for a few lulls the Blazers did a great job on the boards. It was a team rebounding effort. Portland didn't turn the ball over. The Blazers got foul shots and made them. The Blazers got reasonable penetration via dribble and pass. You just didn't see a ton of glaring weaknesses evidenced.
So what went wrong? Besides LeBron, that is? Mostly it was small incidents: an offensive rebound given up, a ball lost at a critical time, a travel called, an ill-chosen shot, Brandon's foot sneaking over the three-point line before LeBron fouled him on that last offensive play in regulation. They weren't repeated but when every possession is critical even isolated incidences add up. The Cavaliers were getting the ball to LeBron. Make or miss (and he did both) that was the percentage play. The Blazers were just short of the percentage play on a half-dozen in the fourth and overtime. Those made the difference.
Thinking systemically you'd point to the Cavaliers' 2 turnovers, tying an NBA record. It's a rare game when one team commits only 8 TO's and gets blown out of the water in that category. Our lack of turning them over allowed them to get up 10 more shots than we did which is a huge difference in a tight game. The shooting percentages were close all the way around, they just had more opportunities. Also Portland connected on only 5 of 18 threes, which continues to be an issue. Travis, Rudy, and Brandon were a combined 3-12 from distance. They had some good looks that just didn't fall.
--Considering the Cavaliers were free to key heavily on him tonight you have to say Brandon had a great game. He drew 11 foul shots and made every one, including the two that sent the game into extra innings. He came within 2 points of matching LeBron's point production, scoring 24. He had 7 rebounds and 7 assists. He played 47 minutes.
--The Cavaliers decided to sacrifice the interior a little and leave the Blazer centers in the lane with single, or sometimes no, coverage. Joel made them pay a little. He hit a bunch of close-in shots with touch. He also drew fouls. He ended the night 4-4 from the field, 5-8 from the line, with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He was responsible for a lot of good interior defense and for a couple clubbings of LeBron too.
--Channing Frye had a nice offensive night subbing for LaMarcus. He shot 7-15 and had 14 points. He had only 4 rebounds but you don't expect big boards from him against the Cleveland bigs who play a lot on the perimeter. I thought he rotated appropriately for the most part.
--Travis Outlaw had 17 points on 7-18 shooting plus 7 rebounds. He had a video-game dunk driving in from the sideline in the fourth. He also got to test his defensive chops against LeBron and, while obviously not stopping or containing him, did a pretty good job. I would say this was one of Travis' more successful starts.
--Steve Blake played a scrappy game with 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 12 points on 5-10 shooting. He was the only Blazer to hit more than one three-pointer tonight, going 2-4. He only had 1 turnover. He was aggressive off the dribble but late in the game he got a little dribble-happy. Mick Foley once wrote in his autobiography that you only see wrestlers go for a sleeper hold anymore when they're thinking, "Oh crap! I'm out of things to do!" That's pretty much what you should interpret when you see a point guard furiously dribbling in and out of the same six feet of court for half of the shot clock.
--The bench rotation consisted of basically two people tonight and of the two Greg Oden was unquestionably the star. He collected 5 fouls in 12 minutes but part of that was the Blazers' attempt to make Creamed LeBron every time he penetrated. You don't want to be fouled by Oden much. Here's the deal, though. In those 12 minutes Greg got 9 rebounds plus a block and scored 7 points. He was 5-8 from the line which bolstered his scoring even though his low post moves took a step back from what we were seeing when he was in normal form before the knee thing. This game was a huge success for Greg, all things considered. He gave us just what we needed.
--Rudy Fernandez played 37 minutes and really did a much better job defensively than was the norm earlier in the year. I like what I'm seeing from him lately...a little more control and attention on that end of the court. He got 4 rebounds and 3 assists, both of which were pretty good. But he was only 1-6 from the field, 1-4 from the arc, and drew no foul shots for a total of 3 points in those 37 minutes. I just wanted him to hit an open three (well, more than the one he did). The loss is NOT his fault, but perhaps you'll understand when I say that his production could have pushed us over the top tonight.
I just keep returning to my initial impression: this game wasn't as spectacular results-wise as the previous two, but it was every bit as good in its own way. The Blazers really are starting to round into playoff form. If they can sustain it for another dozen games or so this will look like a really nice season.
Read Cavaliers-related analysis at FeartheSword.
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