The Portland Trail Blazers spent much of the second half merely a big shot or two away from reeling control away from the Cleveland Cavaliers. For a team that finished among the top-10 in crunch-time wins in each of the last five seasons, that mindset was tried and true. Unfortunately, those clutch, reputation-building buckets never came on this Wednesday night, and they fell 107-104 as a result.
For brief stretches, Damian Lillard threatened to break from his slump. Together, he, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell poured in a combined 70 points. It proved to be a case of too little, too late, as Jarrett Allen and the Cavaliers’ eight-man rotation held steady on their home floor.
As a result of the loss, Portland dropped to a 3-5 record. Here’s a quarter-for-quarter look at tonight’s loss.
Right away, it’s important to note that Wednesday marked the end of the Blazers’ daunting three-games-in-four-nights stretch, each of them on the road, and the first two ending in defeat. The probabilities for a hot start weren’t strong. But sure enough, 50 seconds into the game, it was commercial break time, thanks to a strong opening stretch from Portland.
As anticipated, Lillard’s accuracy, or lack thereof, took precedence above any storyline. By quarter’s end, he had nine points on nine shots, but showed a willingness and ability to score at all three levels. Defensively, Portland closed windows to score along the perimeter, but Cleveland responded by sneaking through the backdoor time-and-time again, with well-designed sets and cuts. Thus, they were able to live in the paint. As good ‘ol Jim Ross would say, it was “bowling shoe ugly,” but the Blazers rode a 26-23 advantage.
Here’s a random statistic: in 72 minutes this season, Portland has a +8.8 net rating with McCollum running lead point and Lillard resting. Tonight, it was noticeably negative enough to discuss.
McCollum can walk into at least 45 states across the U.S., — Ohio is among them — where there isn’t a defender capable of keeping him off his spots. Tonight, shots often went awry or just short on makeable looks. He opened 1-of-8, but covered the difference with intangibles. Cleveland sought to pull the Blazers’ bigs out with ball screens, and he thus responded by becoming an active rebounder and facilitator. By the time the Blazers’ backcourt stars conjoined again, Cleveland’s three-point deficit became a nine-point lead.
The obituary would’ve been all but written if not for one Norman Powell. His ability to transition between blending in on offense and being its most reliable scorer tonight kept the offense on schedule. Even so, Cleveland rode four double-digit halftime scorers to a 60-53 edge.
After being conditioned to appreciate score-first backcourts over the last half-decade, it was difficult not being in awe of Cleveland’s to open this half. Cleveland ran its offense through Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. It offered much of what we’ve seen for years: pick-and-roll attacks, deep, audacious 3-pointers, and smooth floaters in the paint. For Portland, it’s one thing to be rendered helpless in stopping it — the Cavaliers entered the fourth quarter shooting nearly 60 percent. It’s another to not be efficient enough to offset it.
With Portland unable to shoot themselves out of their cold spell, they often found themselves in no man’s land. The lead sat as high as ten, but never as low as five. Portland went deep into their deck of cards in attempting to cut into the lead, bringing in Tony Snell for his second appearance this season. Regardless, they trailed 87-77 going into the fourth.
A few nights ago, Chauncey Billups made an interesting decision of benching Anfernee Simons just as he was getting into one of his offensive grooves. Suffice to say, he learned from that. Despite sharing the floor with McCollum and Powell, it was Simons who carried the load to begin the fourth, working off staggered screens and easing into 16-footers.
Within minutes, the Cavaliers offense — the same one that had 26 assists over their first 33 field goals — went from 2014 Spurs-esque to looking no different than a local rec center team on offense. In fixing it, they went back to what worked: finding Jarrett Allen. Allen went on a personal 8-0 run, continually pushing the Cavaliers’ lead back to comfort.
Portland’s late-game execution will be a tough pill to swallow, solely in how close they came to efficient baskets. There were at least three occasions late, in which they had pocket passes or underhand feeds in the paint for Nurkic, only to come away with turnovers each time. Somehow, after all of that, Portland had a chance to tie the game on the final possession, but Lillard’s shot hit slightly left rim. That character win will have to wait another day.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of tonight’s game.
Portland gets one day off before a home matchup against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, Nov. 5 at 7:00 PT.