With LeBron James fully focused and both teams vying for playoff positioning, the Portland Trail Blazers outlasted the Cleveland Cavaliers to expand their winning streak to 11 straight games. James netted 35 points, but it wasn’t enough to topple a Portland attack firing on all cylinders. The Blazers used crisp passing and tenacious rebounding to supplement CJ McCollum’s 29-point performance. The wins keep piling up for Portland, and coach Terry Stotts’ squad invents new paths to victory. In this case, the Blazers’ once-maligned wing rotation carried the offense for long stretches. James shined, but Portland’s multi-faceted roster reigned supreme tonight.
With little-to-no size available on their frontline, the Cavaliers deployed a defense that was focused on loading up against Portland’s deadly pick-and-roll. Cleveland forced the ball out of the hands of Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic, which put Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu to the test early. Luckily for Portland, both wings answered the call, combining for 13 points in the first quarter. The Cavaliers managed to keep things close by relying on James and a hot-shooting Kyle Korver. The Blazers did a better job of moving the ball and rebounding, but were unable to put together a lead. The score was all tied up at 29 after the first quarter.
CJ Challenges The King
CJ McCollum started the second quarter on fire after grinding through a relatively quiet first. McCollum consistently out-maneuvered his defender, and found favorable midrange shots as a result. James answered for the Cavaliers by moving downhill towards the basket with purpose. The Blazers struggled to slow James’ advances, which resulted in a 14-point quarter for the Cavaliers’ leading man. Portland was able to carve out a small lead thanks to Lillard’s free throws as the quarter came to an end. The half closed with the Blazers out in front 59-54.
When The Levee Breaks
The Blazers’ balanced attack finally started to pay dividends in the third quarter. Cleveland continued to send pressure on defense, but Portland did a superb job finding the open man. Harkless and Lillard were the main beneficiaries, as the two combined for 16 points. Pat Connaughton joined his perimeter counterparts for a three-pointer of his own with time running out, which pushed Portland to five made shots from beyond the arc in the quarter. The Blazers led by 15 at one point, but slipped slightly to finish the period ahead 88-77.
Not So Fast
Portland continued to cruise as the fourth quarter got underway; their lead ballooned back to 15 points with 7:09 remaining. James wasn’t going to go silently into the night, however, and his aggressive attack led to open shots for his teammates. With the help of George Hill and Korver beyond the arc, the Cavaliers completed a 14-2 run to cut the Blazers’ lead to just three points. Aminu proved an unlikely hero on the offensive end, as his three-pointer at the 2:37 mark snapped Portland back to reality. The Cavaliers managed to make it interesting with a strong push, but they were ultimately unable to overcome the lead that Blazers built in the second half.
Band On The Run
CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard combined for only eight points in the first quarter, but the Blazers still managed to keep pace with the Cavaliers thanks to their wings. Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, and Evan Turner all did their part to impact the game in a positive manner tonight. Scoring, passing, and rebounding facilitated by non-backcourt players led to extended runs of success for the Blazers.
Portland’s passing was out of this world. The Blazers had 26 assists, and committed only 7 turnovers while doing so. Cleveland weren’t shy about bringing double teams, and they paid dearly for it.
Stellar rebounding helped the Blazers overcome the field goal percentage disparity against the Cavaliers. Portland throttled Cleveland’s under-manned frontcourt by winning the rebounding margin 50-34.
McCollum Leads The Way
CJ McCollum’s 11-point outburst in the second quarter was crucial in Portland’s ability to withstand a Cavaliers team that started to find success. He finished the night with 29 points and chipped in 3 assists.
Al-Farouq Aminu was one rebound shy of a double-double, but it was his opportune outside shooting that made the difference. The Chief hit a trio of triples against a Cavaliers defense that dared him to shoot. When Aminu is clicking, the Blazers are nearly impossible to stop on offense. He finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Jusuf Nurkic only played 19 minutes, but he showed off some impressive discretion when passing the ball under pressure tonight. The Cavaliers tried to smother the big fella, but he made them pay by finding the gaps left behind. Nurkic recorded 7 points and 10 rebounds in his shorter-than-usual outing.
Walking On Sunshine
Our friends at Fear The Sword are hoping things will get better when everyone gets healthy.
The Blazers return to action on Saturday to host the Detroit Pistons.
Portland’s current winning streak stands at 11 games, which is the longest string of wins for the Blazers since the early stages of the 2013-14 season.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com