In a Nutshell
After a painful defensive-minded slog of a first half the Trail Blazers win the battle of talent, athleticism, and style to blow away the Cavaliers by 20. LaMarcus Aldridge and some forced turnovers leading to breaks key the third-quarter blow-by.
Ugh. There WAS no flow to the first half of this game, period. In the opening minutes the Cavaliers pushed the tempo unexpectedly and the Blazers lofted some threes, almost as if they had traded game plans. But after that the teams settled down into a defensive battle. Kyrie Irving got inside periodically and Anderson Varejao dominated on the boards here and there. The Blazer attack was more potluck but their shots fell every once in a while, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews providing key boosts. That encapsulates about 6 minutes of the 24-minute first half, however. Other than that it was both teams missing whether they were inside or out. The Blazers finished the half shooting 39%, Cleveland 32%. And that was after Portland tore up the nets in the final minutes of the second quarter with a 12-3 run. The score was 42-35 Portland at the break but anybody who played well was going to take this game.
Fortunately that was the Blazers. The third period saw LaMarcus Aldridge make hay on the inside for layups, dunks, short shots, and most of all free throws. He scored 14 of Portland's 27 points in the quarter. On the other end Portland cranked up the opportunity defense, blocking shots and swiping the basketball for multiple run-outs throughout the second half. Swarming Antawn Jamison the way many teams swarm Aldridge, the Blazers left the Cavs only one response: the three-pointer. Even with the scramble Portland defends that as well as anyone in the league. Cleveland's one response quickly became no chance as they shot 3-24 from the arc on the night. The Blazers walked away with the easy win, one bucket short of free chalupas while the Cavs' shooting left them gnawing on the burrito of shame.
Take Away Points
The Blazers matched the Cavs defensively in the first half, which is a recommendation for Portland's defense, as Cleveland is pretty good in that area.
In the end this was always going to be a battle of styles. Cleveland shoots and depends on the three as much as anybody in the league and the Blazers defend that shot as well as anybody in the league. The Blazers need fast break points and Cleveland all but disallows them. The Blazers blew the doors off of the Cavaliers on the run, scoring 22 on the break. Portland held Cleveland to 12.5% shooting from the arc. That spells "win" even before you factor in the Blazers forcing 24 turnovers, staying even with Cleveland on the boards, and scoring 50 in the paint to the Cavs' 46. As we said in the preview, Cleveland does two things on offense: score in the key and hit threes. Portland took away half their attack and the Cavaliers wilted. That was well-planned and well-executed.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored some of his 28 on the run but it was encouraging to see him posting a little closer to the basket, if not in the paint itself, during this game. If you want an easy education on his strengths and weaknesses, cue up a couple games and watch the difference between his possessions when he posts up 15 feet out on the left wing and when he posts close to the hoop. Disregard all jumpers from more than 10 feet and all cuts to the lane for alley-oops. Just look at him in isolation. When he puts the ball on the floor from that outside position he gets lost before he even gets the shot up. When he can catch, wheel, and fire with at most one dribble he looks dominant. Teams are going to double him at either position. Either one can be passed out of effectively. I will say again: the Blazers need to get Aldridge posting close to the hoop on the majority of those back-to-the-basket sets. It's the difference between him looking good and looking much less than ordinary. I fully understand this is not his natural inclination but it's got to be his job until the Blazers find somebody else to take over that role. If he wants to be their clear #1 option for his career it's got to be part of his job description, period. We already learned this lesson last year. We're learning it over again this year. Hopefully the team will be quicker picking it up and Aldridge will be willing. LMA also had 3 offensive rebounds, 4 steals, 4 assists, and a block. Great effort night.
Gerald Wallace went 7-13 for 16 points and was part of the scramble, turnover-forcing defense with 3 steals and a block of his own. He had 4 assists just like Aldridge en route to a fine overall night.
Marcus Camby 25 minutes, 9 rebounds, and a block. Job done.
Wesley Matthews got the Blazers off to a rollicking start in this game and stepped up in short bursts like a machine gun. He ended up with 24 on 8-17 shooting, only 3-9 from the arc (one of those a sweet, turn-around prayer from the sideline with the clock running out) but 5-6 from the foul line. 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and a steal went with.
Raymond Felton went 1-9 for 2 points with 7 assists and 5 turnovers. Aside from a little defensive trouble, though, this actually didn't seem like as bad of a game for him as the stats indicate. He wasn't at the focal point of the offense as much maybe. His night didn't really hurt the Blazers...or some other nights that looked better in the boxscore actually kept the Blazers back more. That's not exactly praise, but saying Felton had a bad game doesn't really tell the story either. He did what he should have, not letting an off night take him or his team out of the game plan.
Jamal Crawford went 2-10 for 4 points. Most of what I just said about Felton also applies here. With the Blazers scrambling, running, and feeding Aldridge the guards just didn't hurt them much.
Nicolas Batum had a pep in his step tonight and made a couple of pretty buckets. He went 4-9 with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals in 21 minutes.
Kurt Thomas gave the Blazers 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks in 20 minutes. Those are nice numbers. His 1-5 night and 2 turnovers had as much to do with his teammates putting him in bad (for him) positions as anything. You don't expect Thomas to be Kobe Bryant nor to bail out the offense with anything but an open 15-foot jumper.
Craig Smith actually starting Portland's inside scoring in the second period when they desperately needed to see the ball go through the net. Kudos for the lift, the 3-4 shooting, 3 rebounds, and a steal in 13 minutes.
Chris Johnson blocked a shot in 3 minutes of late time. Nolan Smith and Eliot Williams each hit a shot, a three in Williams' case. Williams, admittedly with the easier job of the two, looked like a shooting guard. Smith kind of does too, when he looks confident anyway. For Williams that's an asset. For Smith the jury is out.
Fun Stats of the Night
- Blazers 6-23 (26%) from distance...and that doubles Cleveland's percentage.
- 50 points in the paint, 22 fast break points, 28 points after turnovers...the Blazers are going to win any game in which that happens.
- 27 assists on 38 made buckets for Portland tonight, with only 7 of those assists belonging to a true point guard.
- Kyrie Irving was the only Cavalier to get off, with 21 points on 9-17 shooting. Their other mainstay, Antawn Jamison, went 1-8 for 3 points. Unless it's a point guard, this year's Portland team seems pretty good at picking one person to defend and making it stick.
A revenge win against the Clippers is the next order of business. Then a tough test against Orlando a night later. Then the Blazers get a baptism by fire on an excruciating road trip. This is about to get interesting. No matter how humdrum games and wins like this seem in the moment, when those final standings are published in the spring Portland may be quite glad they notched the victory tonight.
Read the Cleveland news over at Fear The Sword.
Cavaliers vs Trail Blazers boxscore if you wish.
Your Jersey Contest Scoreboard for the month. Remember you can see the results from individual games by scrolling to the bottom and clicking on the pull-down menu. Also here's the form for Tuesday's game.