The Portland Trail Blazers' Traveling Cavalcade of Awesome rolled onward Tuesday night, stopping in Cleveland long enough to hang a 119-116 loss on the Cavaliers and collect Portland's 22nd win of the season.
The story of this victory will be familiar enough to those who have followed the team so far this season. Cleveland exposed most of Portland's weaknesses. Going up against Portland's centers Andrew Bynum looked like Dwight Howard, Part II. He scored 13 points in the first half alone, making slush out of the Blazer defense. Guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters cut through that slush, making Portland's guards look foolish to the tune of 25 points apiece. The Cavs went +20 in the paint, committed only 6 turnovers, shot a healthy 47% from the field, and their bench outscored Portland's 50-16. That's a win, especially at home, right?
Ha ha ha! Fool. These are the Blazers! Get with the program. Likely the league is starting to wonder why they even play these games. Just chalk up the "L" on the opponent ledger and let everybody go home.
Sure, the Blazers got down in this game. The Blazers always get down. Yes, there were moments when you were sure Cleveland would go Tom Hanks, finally cracking the Blazer-beating code hidden in the NBA logo by the Templars long ago. Not tonight. Portland took the best charges the Cavaliers had to offer, survived a comeback that saw Cleveland score 11 points in the final 94 seconds (9 of those by Irving and the other two assisted by him), and walked of the floor with another win courtesy of a Damian Lillard dagger in the final (meaningful) possession. At some point opponents are just going to intentionally foul him on those even if the score is tied. At least that way they don't end up on the wrong end of SportsCenter's #1 Play of the Night.
The Blazers set up Lillard's moment by keeping the game close, countering Cleveland's solid attack in the usual ways. The Blazers hit 15 threes, hitting 46% of their attempts from distance. They obliterated the Cavs on the boards, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds and scoring 33 second-chance points. Once again they made more free throws (22) than the opponent even attempted (16). Those three pluses, plus the cherry-topper from Lillard, made up for everything else.
Also in force: Portland's usual propensity to field another hero every time one was needed. Whether it was Lillard and Wesley Matthews beyond the arc, LaMarcus Aldridge caving the defense from the post, Robin Lopez collecting offensive rebounds, Joel Freeland and Nicolas Batum giving mobility to the defense, or Mo Williams stroking a timely shot, every time Cleveland turned around somebody else was hurting them.
So...let the rest of the league be warned. You are dealing with Houdini here. Handcuff the Blazers, put them in a straight jacket. Lock them up in a chest and triple-wrap it with chains. (You better make sure those are real tight.) Dump that chest in a 10,000 gallon aquarium tank filled with sharks and electric eels and shut off the lights. It doesn't matter. About ten seconds later they're going to be back on stage, tapping you on the shoulder, sticking out their hand, and saying, "Pay me!"
Chances are, you will.
LaMarcus Aldridge got off to a rocky start in this game, a combination of good defense and Portland missing from the arc. But once the floor opened up he provided the familiar "1" in the Blazers' 1-2 punch, making Cleveland pay from the post or by finding the open man. He shot 11-22, scored 26, and finished the game with a game-high 15 rebounds.
Damian Lillard went ham and then said "Cheese!" with that final shot. He tried hard defensively but he wasn't stopping anybody so he just outscored them instead. His three-pointers down the stretch put pressure on Cleveland, forcing their massive, last-minute comeback. That game-winner was pure Damian, cold and as sure as the sun rising. 11-23 doesn't tell the story as well as 8-12 from the arc. That's pure nasty. 6-7 from the foul line didn't hurt either. 36 points was the final result, plus a near-triple-double with 10 assists and 8 rebounds. I suspect Damian took the Kyrie matchup pretty seriously. (Irving had 25 and 10 but shot only 9-22 from the field.)
Nicolas Batum had a tough night offensively, never getting in rhythm except in the third period. He shot 3-13 from the field, 2-8 from the arc, scoring 14 with but 2 assists. Then again, the ball was in the hands of Aldridge and the guards all night. No touches = no assists. He made up for it with 9 rebounds.
Wesley Matthews had great and bad moments in this game but the ledger ended up to the good with 6-10 shooting, 3-6 on triples, and 19 points. That's more production than we used to see out of Matthews on his off-and-on nights.
Robin Lopez had one great stretch in the second quarter in which he delivered 4 offensive rebounds in 3 minutes, buoying the Blazers through a rough patch. Outside of that he he major trouble defending and went quiet on the boards. He picked up 5 fouls in 20 minutes of play.
Joel Freeland was the most impressive bench player tonight, using speed and chutzpah to make life harder on Bynum than Lopez had. Freeland played 27 minutes due to Lopez's foul trouble. He got 7 rebounds and committed only 2 fouls in that span. It was a good save.
Mo Williams did his famous, "I'm going to suck until I don't" routine. He looked out of place early but when the Blazers needed a critical shot or two in the second half, there he was. He scored 9 on 3-8 shooting with 6 assists.
Dorell Wright hit a three but had a forgettable night, shooting 1-5. Cleveland's bench closed well on shooters, forcing him to dribble.
Thomas Robinson had 6 rebounds in 11 minutes but shot only 2-7.
The road trip concludes with Minnesota tomorrow night. Do the Blazers have another perfect trip in them?
Timmay's Ultra-Exciting "We Did It Again!" version of the Instant Recap and Gameday Thread Review.
Fear The Sword has reasons to be happy with their team and reasons to be upset about the outcome. Either way, they should probably just change "Sword" to "Lillard" and be done with it.