The Portland Trail Blazers crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight in a 129-110 romp, a game that was never close. If you want a rundown of the quarter-by-quarter action, see our instant recap here. Once you’re done with that, here are ten observations from the victory
As they did versus the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night, the Blazers lined up against a sub-par opponent and refused to play around with them. Portland jumped out to an early lead, extended it, and never let the Cavaliers rally. Cleveland and Orlando have a commonality: they can’t score. That certainly helped the Blazers maintain double-digit margins. But Portland has toyed around with more than one lousy opponent this year. This new leaf of leaving opponents behind is a welcome sight.
The Blazers are not the speediest team in the league, but Cleveland makes them look like sprinters. Portland had a quickness advantage at nearly every position and it paid dividends. The Blazers got into the lane and drew fouls...qualities missing from many matchups. It was nice to see the whistles go Portland’s way.
It was also nice to see Portland’s defense operating in optimum fashion, particularly early in the game. This is an angle not many talk about. Some say Portland has a bad scheme, others that they have poor defenders. Neither explanation is entirely satisfactory. What if Portland’s plan is fairly sound and their defenders adequate, but opponents have a quickness/agility advantage at multiple positions that makes the Blazers vulnerable no matter what they resolve or draw up on paper?
The Long Ball
Portland shoots more threes, on average, than 28 other teams in the league. Tonight, they didn’t...at least not when it counted. Once they got Andre Drummond’s enormous frame out of the way, the Blazers showed they could attack the rim, even in the halfcourt. They attempted lobs, went for short-range jumpers, and generally made nuisances out of themselves inside. That was unusual and, perhaps, a glimmer of hope for a more balanced attack.
Every time you think Damian Lillard has shown you his game-winning repertoire, he pulls out another trick. The 9 assists showing up under his name in the boxscore don’t begin to tell the story. They were earned in shortened minutes. After a certain point, he didn’t need to occupy the ball. BUT...Lillard put the win in the freezer not by scoring, but by slicing up an over-committed defense with passes. The Blazers were already ahead when Dame started working his magic, but his run of passing in the second quarter helped them push the lead from a nice-enough 11 after one to an insurmountable 21 by the half. He found Enes Kanter, Gary Trent, Jr., and anyone else who was open anywhere on the floor. It was a brilliant point guard performance.
Leading With the Left Arm
The shove-off has become a key part of Lillard’s offensive repertoire when he penetrates. When the defender bodies up, Dame pushes back and the defender ends up sliding across the floor, waxing the hardwood with his shorts. The move has been accepted by refs, giving him a free pass to drive at need. If Lillard wasn’t unguardable already, this makes him foolproof. It’s now right up there with the three-point lean for a foul in the Dame Lexicon. #starpower
Kanter Smashes Drummond
It’s not often Enes Kanter is the fastest center on the floor. He was tonight by a mile and he took full advantage. When Andre Drummond was in, Kanter raced down the floor. When anyone else played, Kanter threw weight in the paint and owned the glass. Kanter finished the game with 21 points and 13 rebounds, 7 offensive. Drummond had 8 points, 5 boards, and 4 fouls.
Gary Trent, Jr.: Difference Maker
Gary Trent, Jr. led the Blazers with 26 points despite attempting the third most shots on the team. The young shooting guard has become a barometer for the Blazers. When he’s playing well, they succeed. His brutal efficiency tonight (8-12 shooting, 4-6 from distance, 6-6 from the line) make him a must-cover for a defense that was already having trouble coping. The other players provide the foundation, but Trent, Jr. is the difference-maker right now.
Big Times Three
Carmelo Anthony followed up his game-securing 24-point outburst against the Philadelphia 76’ers last night with 23 points in 20 minutes versus the Cavs. For those counting, this is his third straight 20+ point outing.
Harry Giles Stands Tall
Harry Giles III is looking more comfortable with his minutes the last couple weeks. He’s not an overwhelming presence, but he’s always doing something. Tonight he provided 10 rebounds and 2 assists in 20 minutes. He drew 4 fouls, reflecting a career-long issue for him. It feels like he’s leaning into the playing time now, getting on the runway for even more.
Anfernee Simons Fires Away
Nobody has benefited more from injury-inspired minutes—and the corresponding green light—than Anfernee Simons. The Streak hit 4 of 10 shots, all of the makes from the three-point arc. He added 4 free throws for 16 points, total. He notched but 1 assist in 30 minutes, but the campaign for him needs to be shifted towards shooting guard minutes anyway. When he’s confident, he’s deadly.
The Blazers now head on the road to face the Dallas Mavericks at 4:30, Pacific this Sunday.