LeBron James came very close to breaking a lot of hearts in Rip City, but the Portland Trail Blazers withstood a late fourth quarter comeback to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-105 in front of a raucous Moda Center crowd.
With the win, Portland extends its improbable winning streak to eleven games, and improves overall to 42-26, still clinging to third place in the Western Conference standings.
The Blazers were led by C.J. McCollum (29 points, 3 assists) and Damian Lillard (24 points, 9 assists).
The Cavaliers were led by a monster effort by James (35 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists) and Kyle Korver (19 points).
”It’s called position-less basketball.” It was a bit of a wonky night, given that Cleveland played most of the game without a true “big” man on the floor (James notwithstanding), and they didn’t really try to hide it. Coming in without Larry Nance Jr., who was filling in for the injured Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson himself before sustaining a hamstring injury himself, the Cavs opted to go small virtually the whole night with Jame splitting “center” duties with not quite as large Jeff Green. They were about as effective as you’d expect.
Before the contest turned into a shootout in the second half, the Blazers feasted by Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum running into the pick and roll, drawing a double team and then hitting a wide open cutter - usually Maurice Harkless - under the hoop for an easy dunk. James made a few defensive plays around the rim, but for the most part it was there for the taking.
Harkless ended up spinning it into gold, producing well with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals, while also taking the task at times to try and slow the almost unstoppable force of James. Just look at this:
OH. MY. GOODNESS. LEBRON JAMES. pic.twitter.com/y8Fo6epT3S— NBC Sports NWWWWWWWWWWW (@NBCSNorthwest) March 16, 2018
People shouldn’t be able to do that.
Playing angry. If you think that going up against a rim defender-less lineup would bring dollar signs to Jusuf Nurkic’s figurative cartoon eyes, on probably any other night you’d be right. But tonight he and the Blazers failed to capitalize much at all on Nurk’s immense size advantage in the paint, scoring only 7 points with the matchup before foul trouble and subsequent frustration fouls to that trouble relegated him to coach Terry Stott’s doghouse for most of the second half. Luckily the missed opportunity didn’t come back to bite them.
Busy night for the Victims Unit. Breaking out of a little mini-slump, McCollum had one of his best games of the season, carrying most of Portland’s offensive load when Lillard was forced to become a distributor for most of the evening. McCollum was efficient (12-24 FG) and had a number of of dazzling highlights in an exciting back-and-forth battle with James. From the get-go it appeared like LeBron was going to impose his will and it was crucial for C.J. to take the reins and just ball out. He did just that.
An honorable mention should go out as well to Evan Turner, who enjoyed a relatively uncontested mid-range and cashed in with 11 points, 7 boards and 5 assists. He also had a key bucket late in the fourth to help stave off the final Cleveland surge.
The Blazers will get a day off before they host the Detroit Pistons Saturday Night at the Moda Center - Tip is set for 7 p.m.