The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, 98-78, at the Rose Garden on Sunday night to run their record to 6-2.
The good news is that I didn't need to spend the entire second half concocting a visual representation to prove the depth of Cleveland's hopelessness as I did the last time they came to Portland back in March 2011. Who could forget a game that, at halftime, had Portland on pace to win, 128-68? Not me. Making this chart and hearing Cavaliers coach Byron Scott call his team "so soft it's unbelievable" was the equivalent of taking a few extra hits of laughing gas after a 3-hour dental procedure. Good times.
The end result on Sunday was another blowout home win for Portland, but there was a key difference: hope has been restored for the off-red and bright-yellow. Rookie Kyrie Irving is sensational for a 19-year-old starting point guard asked to carry a roster of flotsam. Fellow 2011 lottery pick Tristan Thompson isn't too shabby either. With any luck they will be the only two current Cavaliers left on a playoff-bound 2014 roster and this year's pit of dreadfulness will already be a distant memory.
Portland's slow-developing, ugly-early win seemed to drive everyone a little bit batty. Media dozed through the choppy 42-35 first half; fans screeched in agony at the final buzzer when Portland fell just short of the 100-point total necessary for free Chalupas. Afterwards, Blazers coach Nate McMillan responded to three separate questions with a description of his pre-game decision to get the Blazers actively moving during their afternoon shootaround. Minutes later, Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge and guard Wesley Matthews said that the shootaround was nothing out of the ordinary and that it was simply a low-intensity walk-through. The Blazers shot 7-for-26 in the first quarter so it didn't really matter which version of events was accurate.
It was Sunday night, the laziest day of the NBA week, against the Cavaliers, pretty much the meekest competition not named the Washington Wizards, and just about everyone in the building had someplace else they would have rather been. If Thursday night's win over the Los Angeles Lakers was electricity defined this game was a flashing "low battery" warning. I guess I could go find the charger, or maybe I could take my chances and shoot off a few text messages. If the phone gives out, oh well. I've got 8 percent left. That should be enough.
Portland never bothered to charge up, instead using pushes in the late-second quarter and early-third quarter to open up a game that was never really in doubt. A 10-2 run before the break set the mood and a smooth sequence from Wesley Matthews to start the second half sealed the deal. Matthews corralled a loose ball from a charitable Antawn Jamison, moving niftily into space to escape traffic near halfcourt with a behind-the-back sidestep move before calmly flipping a pass ahead to a streaking Gerald Wallace, who finished the uncontested dunk with the minimum effort required.
That was the moment of self-realization for Cleveland, the play that made the Cavaliers look around at each other and conclude that Anthony Parker (2-for-7), Jamison (1-for-8), Casspi (1-for-7 when it mattered, 3-for-3 in garbage time), Ramon Sessions (2-for-8) and Daniel Gibson (1-for-7) weren't going to be enough this time. The third and fourth quarters were pretty academic. LaMarcus Aldridge made sure it would be a laugher, scoring 14 third-quarter points after shooting 3-for-10 in the first half, on his way to a quiet game-high 28 points plus 8 rebounds.
The only moment that strayed from the "blowout home win over a weak opponent" script came when McMillan had a mini post-game flare-up.
Asked why he didn't pull his starters until Portland was up 91-69 with 2:54 remaining, McMillan reacted as if the media bathed a poodle in red wine and then gave it agility training on his living room's white carpet.
"Give me a break on that," McMillan said in a snarly tone, making it clear that he genuinely desired the break, one that would preferably last for the rest of his life. "The game -- When do you sub? When it's five minutes to go in a game? Our subs gave up 10 points in two minutes. I think you guys read too much into that. Bottom line is to win the ballgame. A minute? Thirty seconds? Give you something to report on."
It was a rare moment of direct disgust from a man who bottles up his emotions with the media about as tightly as humanly possible.
Why react? One: McMillan has clearly expressed an ingrained desire to never, ever, ever lose a double-digit lead because of a late-game substitution decision. Two: McMillan seems to have a deep-seated aversion to ever finding himself in a situation where he needs to put his starters back into a game after pulling them. Three: McMillan is a professional basketball coach and therefore, by definition, hates being second-guessed by the media, especially following a blowout win.
Anyway, McMillan channeling Kobe Bryant-style loathing for a paragraph was about the most interesting thing to happen on Sunday night, which pretty much says it all.
Lob City on Tuesday; that one will have a different vibe, guaranteed.
Random Game Notes
- You've surely noticed Blazers guard Wesley Matthews flashing the "three holster" after he knocks down a shot from outside (Matthews was 3-for-9 from deep on Sunday). Matthews forms his fingers like a three and then deposits his hand into an imaginary belt like a gunslinger. Why does he do it? "It just kind of happened. We couldn't do the goggles any more because Patty [Mills] is gone, he was pretty much the founder of it. Something goofy, something to do, something for the fans, mainly. Me and Nic [Batum] were coming up with something." Asked whether the gesture had a special name, Matthews said: "It doesn't matter, it's just the holster."
- A few astute observers have noted that Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook used a similar motion during a win over the Blazers last season.
- A look at the shortened schedule practice management: Portland took Saturday as a maintenance day after travelling back from Phoenix, did not shootaround Sunday morning (opting for the pre-game afternoon shootaround/walkthrough) and plans to take Monday as a maintenance day too. In other words, essentially no real on-court practice time. If you're wondering where the up-and-down play is coming from, the absence of practice time is as important as the increased frequency of games. Two sides to the same coin, but one seems to get talked about more than the other.
- The Blazers announced their 164th consecutive sellout on Sunday night. Here's what it looked like when the game tipped (picture via Mike Acker of Rip City Project). The game tipped at 6 p.m. instead of the usual 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. start time. Day of the week and opponent also factors.
- The Rose Garden jumbotron captured a fan's sign which read: "Marcus Camby got Swishers" with a carefully-drawn design featuring the cigar manufacturer's logo. Camby was arrested and then cleared of a marijuana charge following a traffic stop during the lockout.
- Irving isn't getting nearly enough buzz around the league. Outside of Steve Nash, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and maybe a few others, he's got the smoothest shooting stroke for a point guard that you will see. Machine-like during warm-ups and very confident, perhaps a touch over-confident, during the game. McMillan praised him (read below). All of the intangibles that you would expect from a Duke product are there. You can see the makings of a potential All-Star. Better than John Wall already? You know I love John Wall. The rookie wall awaits though.
- A few standout Irving plays: Felton went crashing to the floor after attacking the basket and Irving immediately recognized the man-up advantage, pushing the ball down the floor the other direction and setting up an easy lay-up at the rim. Later, a smooth dump-off dish while driving baseline, finding Tristan Thompson for the emphatic finish. Third: a very nifty finish in transition to avoid Gerald Wallace -- no easy task -- and complete the play. Casspi ruined multiple Irving assist opportunities.
- Thompson is also very intriguing. During warm-ups you can't help but ogle as he spins and rips through going either direction. Incredibly explosive and balanced for a young big man. His length and shot-blocking ability was on display during the game. Thompson is short, though, and had a number of attempts stopped at the rim and he was also stripped on his way up. He finished with 10 points, five rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 turnovers. One of those blocks was an eye-opener from the weakside as he helped on Nicolas Batum, who was posting up Breast Gibson. The time will come, hopefully before the end of March, when Byron Scott punts on the season and moves him into the starting lineup. What is the point of Antawn Jamison?
- Thompson has a need-to-correct shooting issue when he turns to face. He sets up triple-threat position below his waist on the right side even though he's a lefty. He then pulls into his shot in a long and deliberate motion that brings the ball across his body and face. I kid you not, one of Cleveland's assistants, who I would guess is 55+ years old, stripped him or blocked his shot during half-speed warm-ups at least four times, despite other coaches trying to encourage him to burst into his motion more quickly. He needs to go to whoever re-engineered LeBron James' mid-range jumper during the lockout and figure out how to get into his shot from a higher release point.
- In the two games since Blazers point guard Raymond Felton declared he was fit after playing 41 minutes against the Lakers, he has been torched by a 37-year-old Steve Nash and outplayed by the teenaged Irving. Felton was 3-for-7 for 9 points, 2 assists and 1 turnover against Phoenix; Nash was 7-for-7 for 17 points, 9 assists and 3 turnovers. Felton played 28 minutes in the blowout loss. Felton was 1-for-9 for 2 points, 7 assists and 5 turnovers against Cleveland. Irving was 9-for-17 for 21 points, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers. Felton played 30 minutes in the blowout win. On the season, he's shooting 35 percent from the field and 12 percent from deep. He did have some excellent set-up assists for forward LaMarcus Aldridge on Sunday.
- Quirky thing: For the second home game in a row the Blazers finished the first half with a very late three-pointer. Jamal Crawford sank a super deep one against the Lakers at the buzzer; Matthews knocked in a corner three fadeaway with just seconds left on Sunday.
- Another night where Aldridge got 20+ shots and it still didn't feel like enough (even though he was hit-and-miss). He will be up for Tuesday and Blake Griffin.
- Someone tried to ask Gerald Wallace about the Clippers after the game. "When do we play the Clippers?" Wallace responded. In two days, he was informed. "OK, I'll talk about them in two days," he replied firmly but without malice. End conversation. Pretty funny.
- Nicolas Batum minutes watch: Just 20, despite the blowout. Tick, tick, tick, tick.............
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments
Yeah it did. I kind of felt a long day yesterday and then we didn't really have them moving around until right before the game, we wanted to get them moving by running them in shootaround. This is going to be an adjustment for us. Sometimes you can lay around too much. Once we got our second wind in the second half we started to play better basketball and establish a defensive presence. We were able to break this game open.
Schedule is a challenge?
It is a challenge because of this year and the number of games. Just the way this schedule is. You don't have to do different things. You have to learn from games in the past. I knew today that we needed to get these guys moving around because I kind of felt it this morning. You're waiting all day for this game to happen. Normally we have a [morning] shootaround. We had a quick meeting yesterday so they had an opportunity to rest. The long day they pretty much had today, I knew we had to get that blood circulating but it took us a half to get going. Finally we were starting to play good basketball.
I just felt we had to work harder. We needed to dig down and work harder on both ends of the floor. Defensively we were kind of just in a daze. Kinda flat. Looked very similar to the Phoenix game. Then we got going. I thought Gerald was able to get involved, we forced some turnovers and was able to convert some points. I knew we needed to work harder than we were working.
Force-feeding LaMarcus Aldridge in the third quarter?
Well we want to go in the paint and establish ourselves through LaMarcus or penetration. Even though we're pushing the ball, when we talk about attacking we want to get to the rim, whether that's post-ups or penetration. If the outside shot comes from that we'll take that but we don't want to settle for perimeter jumpshots. So we want to play through LaMarcus.
I thought we were just having some bad turnovers. Just being careless with the ball and playing in traffic. But we did force a number of turnovers, 24 for 28 points, which I thought was the difference in this game. We got some points off of our defense. When you start to see that ball go through the basket normally NBA players start to play better defense.
Pre-game shootaround you went full speed?
As opposed to walking through, get them moving. Run through your sets or your defensive schemes live as opposed to walking through it we want to go through it almost live where we are moving to get them moving.
Wait too long to sub out the starters in the fourth quarter?
Give me a break on that. The game -- when do you sub? When it's five minutes to go in a game, our subs gave up 10 points in two minutes. I think you guys read too much into that. Bottom line is to win the ballgame. A minute, thirty seconds. Give you something to report on.
You said you were embarrassed by the last game against the Clippers
We've played better basketball since then. I know we are much better than we showed New Year's Day. We're going to need to be better against this team. I think they had a day off also. It's homecourt before we get ready to go out on the road so these next two games back-to-back, we'll be focused on the first one but you want to defend homecourt before we go out on this long road trip.
Craig Smith -- 13 minutes
He gives us a balance, a big that can give us some offense on the post. We're short with both he and Kurt out there but he plays bigger. We've been pretty solid with him being out there. I'm trying to get as many minutes [off] for LaMarcus as possible when I go to that rotation. He has experience, he knows how to play, he's familiar with these guys he's going up against.
First take on Kyrie Irving?
He's very quick. Offensively he can get his shot. He can create some things. I thought we did a pretty decent job of trying to keep him in front and trapping him at times, mixing up our defense. But he's a very talented guard.
Plan for tomorrow?
We'll walk through and get ourselves ready. We won't be practicing hard tomorrow because we have 4 games in 5 days. Tomorrow will be basically a maintenance day and then we'll get ourselves ready for the Clippers on Tuesday.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter