Parts of this game went much better than expected. Overall I am not terribly disappointed. What looked like a sure blowout in the early third quarter turned into a competitive game...a game the Blazers actually had a chance to win. Considering the pummeling they took early, that was nearly a miracle. The fact that Portland couldn't pull it off isn't surprising. There was just too much pressure coming from Cleveland on both ends and on the boards. But the Blazers shouldn't be hanging their heads about that and neither should their fans.
The game started out in the worst of ways, with LeBron James putting on a clinic on how to look like the best player in the universe. He was shooting, running, laying the ball in at the cup, bumping and grinding...he just used everybody Portland sent against him. It was scary. He scores like Kobe but he's built like a truck. (As my two-year-old would say, "Biiiiiiiiiiig tuck!!!") Portland's defensive energy clearly wasn't the same out of the gate as it was Friday versus L.A. either. The Cavs were flat-out running, usually with LeBron leading the charge. Portland wasn't getting back in sufficient numbers. When they couldn't run Cleveland was taking advantage of horrific rotations by everybody in white. Half a move and one pass yielded wide open shots for the road team. Portland had to double LeBron and Shaq, which was both expected and the right call. But after either star released the ball nobody moved. It was ugly. Add in that the Blazers couldn't rebound against Shaq to save their lives and you end up with a 34-29 advantage for Cleveland, the Blazers keeping that close only because some shots fell.
The second period featured more of the same, except Portland seemed even more impotent on the glass and LeBron just started hitting anything he took. That turned into a 30-20 quarter for Cleveland and it was 64-49 at the half. Things looked dismal.
The Cavs pulled even farther ahead at the beginning of the third but they relaxed and started going away from LeBron more. Also the Blazers concentrated on denying LeBron more, daring anyone else to beat them. And at this point Brandon Roy decided he wasn't going down without a fight. He scored. And scored. And scored. He looked every bit as good as we've ever seen him, mixing up short jumpers, drives, and even threes. You kept waiting for LeBron to turn it back on but he didn't. The result was Portland chipping away slowly at the margin. Then suddenly Martell Webster hit a couple threes and the lead melted like an Al Gore glacier. The rebounding got better. The Blazers kept denying LeBron. Portland didn't turn over the ball once in the period. They smacked the Cavs 29-18 in the quarter and trailed by only 4.
The fourth period started the same way the third had ended and Portland crawled back into a tie. But for a number of reasons they could never get over the top. First, Cleveland figured the gander should have what the goose got and double-teamed Roy to get the ball out of his hands. Second, much of the non-Roy portion of the comeback had been built on threes and they stopped falling. Third, behind Shaq the rebounding swung back Cleveland's way. And fourth, Anderson Varejao pulled yet another fourth-quarter job on us, not so much with his shot this time (as that was off) but with rebounding and creating turnovers. Portland kept it close but the Cavs salted it away late by hitting a couple of threes and the game was over. Portland could have handled LeBron's outpouring but not taking care of business on the boards and giving up the ghost to Varejao had been too much to overcome.
Portland shot 51.4% for the game but they're going to look at a couple other numbers and shake their heads. One is the 25% (5-20) three-point shooting clip. Worse, though, was only hitting 13-20 from the foul line. Cleveland won the rebounding battle by 10 on a night when they actually missed 1 more shot than the Blazers did. The bench played limited minutes tonight but all four reserves, in a combined 40 minutes of play, managed but 1 rebound between them. Portland did fairly well in the points in the paint battle, scoring 40 to Cleveland's 46, but they let the Cavs have 15 fast break points.
A couple more free throws, a couple more rebounds, and some semblance of defensive rotation or even hustling back in transition in the first half and this game might have been different. As it was the Blazers didn't take the game from the Cavs. And if you don't out-and-out take a game from LeBron he's going to walk away with it by default. You can talk about wins like Friday's being magic but the truth is you have to make your own magic in this league and the Blazers' wands were just a little too wobbly tonight.
Brandon Roy had another phenomenal night. His great scoring was overshadowed by LeBron in the first half but in that second half he had the spotlight all to himself and he took full advantage. Roy keyed the third-quarter comeback, kept us in the game, and did everything one could have wished. He's good, folks. 34 points on 14-23 shooting. For those wondering, LeBron had 41 on 19 shots.
LaMarcus Aldridge, though not getting as many attempts as we probably needed, had a good night on both ends with 8-11 shooting, 18 points and 13 rebounds. He was never able/willing to attack the basket in the halfcourt though, even passing up what looked like a clear try for the rim late to create a play that didn't work. We need him taking more shots and being more aggressive.
Martell Webster picked up his defense in the second half and was the key guy in denying James the ball. He got taken to the cleaners early in the game, but who didn't? Other than hitting those consecutive threes with 3:20 left in the third he couldn't do much offensively, shooting 2-9 from distance, 4-11 overall, and garnering 12 points. But he does get props for the late "D".
Andre Miller had a decent game, registering 8 assists and 14 points with but 1 turnover. He tried to push tempo tonight but nobody really came with him. He started taking over the ball a little during Roy's big scoring push, an occurrence I had mixed feelings about. But there's little use complaining about the offense looking disjointed sometimes when it looked disjointed all the time a month or so ago.
Juwan Howard played 38 minutes but just got overwhelmed by an aged, ground-bound Shaq. O'Neal, even at a shadow of his old self, was too big. Howard was among the guys who might have rotated more though. There were a couple plays where he stuck with Shaq out around the three-point line while the play progressed towards the basket. That was probably unnecessary. 6 points, OK. But 4 rebounds? Then again, who else do the Blazers have that they're sure can hold it together for extended minutes?
Jerryd Bayless was the most-used man off the bench tonight with 15 minutes of play. He was pretty much a non-factor in those 15 minutes though with 1-6 shooting, 4 points, and an assist. You could tell pretty early it wasn't going to be his night.
Dante Cunningham hit a couple of shots in 7 minutes. Blake and Pendergraph didn't matter much in their 7 and 11 respectively.
This game isn't too bad if you get the next one versus Milwaukee. It's just a nasty matchup for Portland. It's odd that we got a tale of two evenings in the last two games though. Two fantastic teams...one can't win here and one can't lose.
Oh...and Brandon Roy is a superstar in this league, but LeBron James is a galaxy unto himself.
Plus...I nearly always give Shaq a hard time but I have to say that tonight was your basic, well-played, go-with-what-works-for-you effort and was quite admirable. He didn't disrupt a thing except for the Blazers' rebounding efforts. He looked as in-tune with his role tonight as I've seen him.