What if I told you that tonight's game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers was a blowout? What if I explained that dominant performances by a pair of unstoppable scorers put the winning team up so far and so fast that the losers had no choice but to hang their heads and pray for the final horn? You'd probably say that's the way the game was expected to go, right?
But what if I told you the winning team was the Blazers?
Yup. That just happened. Portland's hometown heroes jumped on the Cavs early in this game, never let up, and Cleveland had to struggle mightily against third-line reserves in the fourth quarter to force the margin below 30, 105-76.
The Cavaliers attacked this game with the same enthusiasm as Lisa Simpson attacking a meatloaf. Despite imploring speeches from Head Coach David Blatt and huddled pep talks from LeBron James, Cleveland never got past the disinterested stage. Their offense consisted of a single pass followed by a jumper. Their rebounding was laissez-faire. Their defense might have been a tick better but it hardly mattered because Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum kept them rocking back on their heels the entire first half. Crabbe registered a career high 21 points by halftime. When the Cavs were looking his way, McCollum burned them with sweet dribble drives. When the rest of the supporting cast started hitting most of their threes, the game took a sour turn for Cleveland, joyous for Portland.
All game long the Cavaliers played as if they expected the Blazers to give the lead back. Given Portland's track record so far this season, they could be excused for the assumption. Everybody in the Moda Center was waiting for that too. But a few factors made this game unusual:
1. The Blazers just came off of a quintuple-loss road trip and were in no mood to mess around.
2. Without leading scorer Damian Lillard, the Blazers stuck to the script, playing within the established offense. On a Terry-Stotts-coached team, establishment ball means passing and cutting, finding the easiest shot possible and then taking it regardless of the shooter's position or prominence. When Cleveland's lackadaisical approach allowed easy shots on the regular, the Blazers happily took and made them. They never stopped, even when they got up by 15...and 20...and 30.
3. The Blazers also took advantage of the Cavaliers playing a high-profile game against Golden State last night, capitalizing on the opponent's emotional and physical fatigue by running them out of the gym. 17 Cleveland turnovers played into Portland's hands nicely. Thought the experiment isn't repeatable, this game showed how exciting the Blazers can be when they ease up a little on the conservative defensive approach and go for the ball first, position second. A little aggression goes a long way with this young team.
It goes without saying that Portland's game-slowing, "whittle down the number of possessions to give themselves a chance" offense--so evident on the recent road trip--went right out the window tonight. The Blazers' approach was all points, all the time. Cleveland ended up outscoring them on the break 17-9, but the final tally hardly mattered when Portland went up 34-12 in the first period and 63-34 at halftime. They didn't lose a point off that margin in the second half either.
This was the happiest win of the season by far for the Blazers: antiseptic mouthwash after the losing jag, a wonderful Christmas present for the home fans. If the Cavaliers didn't already burn the receipt they'll try to return this game at the department store tomorrow, but Portland's going to frame it and hang it over the mantelpiece.
Allen Crabbe finished the game with 26 points on 4-6 three-pointers made...the best game of his pro career so far. That he shot 8-15 in 31 minutes is not nearly as impressive as him sticking to the team offense after the mighty 21-point performance in the first half. Most young guys would have come out chucking heat checks, figuring they'd get to 40 before the night was through. His teammates would have let Crabbe try it. Instead he insisted upon making the right pass, the same way his teammates had fed him before halftime. That may not get him a highlight suite on ESPN, but it'll get a huge nod here.
Speaking of assists, CJ McCollum had 6 to go along with 16 points off of 7-18 shooting, 1-5 from the arc. What we just said about Crabbe we'll echo for McCollum in miniature. With Lillard out, the temptation for CJ to take over must be overwhelming. We saw the results on the road trip and it wasn't pretty. Tonight he played within himself and within the offense. Even though his jumper was off he still scored. More to the point, his teammates looked great. If McCollum is going to stake a claim to the point guard moniker, even with a hybrid dash, he'll need to register more of those nights.
Mason Plumlee continues to sell his heart out on the floor. What Ed Davis was doing two weeks ago, Plumlee is now accomplishing on a nightly basis. His energy is through the roof. He has busy hands and active feet. He's getting in the way of opponent plays and helping the Blazers make their own. 4 assists and 4-6 shooting tell part of the tale. 14 rebounds tell the rest.
Al-Farouq Aminu was a key part of the offense tonight, hitting 5-9 shots and dishing 5 assists. The Blazers would probably settle for either of those. Getting both in the same night was a huge bonus. Plus Aminu helped anchor an near-automatic double-team defense against LeBron James, holding The King to 4-13 shooting and 12 points. This may have been Aminu's best all-around game in a Portland uniform.
Noah Vonleh's claim to fame tonight: 4 steals in 21 minutes. What did we say about getting more aggressive? If the defense behind Vonleh can stay solid enough to turn him loose, maybe he can put his athleticism to better use. Also credit Vonleh for some nice overall defense against LeBron and company.
Meyers Leonard returned to form tonight! His shot looked confident, at times brilliant. His defense was solid. He didn't stop rebounding. The Cavs roughed him up pretty good in the second half but he kept his composure. There's only good things to say about Meyers tonight. His 5-9 shooting, 2-4 from distance, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists made a big difference.
Continuing the bench parade, Moe Harkless had a mighty nice block and Ed Davis hit 4-4 shots. Luis Montero showed some REALLY nifty moves in 4 minutes of play. If this guy can get control of his dribble and a handle on the flow of the game, look out. The raw material is there.
Chris Kaman! Chris Kaman! The big guy opened his 6-minute garbage-time stint with a pair of jumpers and got a rousing ovation from the crowd.
Every parade needs some rain. Gerald Henderson provided a downpour by shooting 1-7. Tim Frazier spoiled an otherwise-solid performance by committing 3 turnovers in 18 minutes.
It's amazing to finally link you to a Boxscore you'll want to keep.
Fear The Sword may want to change the last word of their title to "Crabbe".
The Trail Blazers will try to avoid a letdown against the Sacramento Kings tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m.
AND SPEAKING OF SACRAMENTO KINGS...the next time those worthies visit town, it'll be Blazer's Edge Night. We're planning on sending 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play the Kings on March 28th and we need your help. You can donate tickets to the cause through this link:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.
PLEASE celebrate this win by sending a child or two! Donations have been strong but we've had a LOT of requests and we're not to 2000 yet. Help if you can.
If you want to take a Kings fan up on a wager to that effect, you can find it here!