The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t make it easy on themselves, but were able to avoid disaster and defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers 123-110 on Monday night, bringing their record to 3-0 on their current road trip. CJ McCollum led all scorers with 35 points, and came up big down the stretch as Portland shook off a spirited Cavs rally to hold on for the victory. Cedi Osman led Cleveland with 27 points of his own.
After leaping out to a 23-point halftime lead, the Blazers were outscored 36-17 in the third quarter, and the Cavs were able to cut the deficit to just two points early in the fourth. However, Portland recovered with a big 14-0 run late, and were able to put the game away by a comfortable margin.
First Half Excellence
It’s a shame that the Blazers came out so flat in the third quarter, because it took away from what was an incredible first half performance. Portland started the game in dominating fashion—jumping out to a 14-0 lead and keeping the Cavs from scoring a basket until under the seven-minute mark. McCollum in particular was locked in from the jump, registering 22 of his points in the first half alone.
However, it was the Blazers bench that turned it to another level in the second quarter, in which the Blazers put up 42 points. The second-unit played free and easy—despite playing without floor general Evan Turner for the second consecutive game. Excellent ball movement, combined with a lackluster Cavs defensive effort, led to a plethora of open looks. This led to the team going 11-13 from three in the first half, while shooting 68% from the field overall. Seth Curry was particularly strong, going 4-4 from distance over that span.
Unfortunately, the Blazers came out in the third quarter looking as though they had their skills zapped by the Monstars during the break. The shots stopped falling, the ball stopped moving, and the defensive intensity completely disappeared. The Blazers shot 28% in the frame, and committed five costly turnovers. To make matters worse, the Cavs came out with a renewed sense of energy themselves, and quickly pounced on the opportunity to get back in the game. They started the half on an 8-0 run, and were able to get to the rim with ease for most of the second half.
Part of the Blazers’ problem defensively was Enes Kanter. When Cavs players, particularly Osman, were able to drive past their defender, there was not enough resistance at the rim. Perhaps Zach Collins would have been the Blazers’ better option during this stretch, especially considering the fact that Kanter wasn’t making a huge mark offensively at the time. It wasn’t just on Kanter, but he certainly didn’t help the matter.
Also interesting was the fact that Curry, who was lights-out in the first half, didn’t enter the game again until the one-minute mark of the third quarter. For an offense that was growing increasingly stagnant, he might have been able to come in a light a fire under the team. Nonetheless, the Blazers were able to weather the storm and come away with the victory, despite the adversity.
Portland had a crucial 14-0 run late in the fourth quarter that effectively put the game out of reach. With the Blazers leading by three and about 4:30 remaining, Kevin Love was called for a foul on Jusuf Nurkic (that looked to be a charge). After Nurk hit both free throws, Al-Farouq Aminu blocked a Love lay-up on the other end, which was then followed by four straight Blazer threes, including two from McCollum. Portland’s lead had suddenly ballooned to 17 with just over two minutes remaining, and any hope for the Cavs went out the window.
Damian Lillard went for 21 points, four rebounds, eight assists and two blocks.
McCollum’s 35 came on 12-18 shooting, including 7-8 downtown, and he also pulled down seven boards on the night.
Nurkic had 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists, and was 6-10 from the field.
Maurice Harkless had another solid performance with nine points and eight rebounds, in addition to two steals in 26 minutes of action.
Aminu had seven points on 3-8 shooting, while adding two blocks and a steal.
Collins returned to the rotation tonight, playing 16 minutes. He had a nice block and took advantage of a size mismatch for a strong post move against Matthew Dellavedova.
Jake Layman went for seven points on 3-5 shooting. Enes Kanter chipped in nine and six rebounds, and Curry finished with 15 points on 5-6 shooting, including a perfect 5-5 from three-point land.
It was a not-so-happy homecoming for Rodney Hood, who went 1-4 from the field and was pretty much a non-factor for most of the night.
The Blazers head to Bean Town for a date with the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.