The Portland Trail Blazers faced the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night just one win shy of an nearly-incomprehensible 5-1 late-season road trip. With opponents like the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics already vanquished, the Cavaliers were hardly a threat on paper. But Portland has a way of making easy games hard, so nothing was guaranteed.
As it turned out, the New Look Blazers took the floor tonight, leaving behind their wayward ways. Instead of playing down to the level of their competition, Portland came out strong and shored up their few weaknesses as the game progressed. The result was an easy 141-105 victory and the trophy for Bestest Turn-Around in an NBA Season for 2020-21.
Damian Lillard led the Blazers in scoring with 32 points and 9 assists. He got plenty of help from the bench, as Enes Kanter poured in 18 points with 13 rebounds and Carmelo Anthony contributed 16. Portland shot 57.6% from the field and 48.5% from the arc.
First Half Summary
Unfortunately I spent most of the first half on the phone with NBA League Pass support. They fixed my issue, but I didn’t get to see the proceedings. Fortunately fellow Blazer’s Edge staff members filled in with their observations and wisdom.
Danny Marang informs us that both teams came out fairly flat-footed, but Jusuf Nurkic looked spry on defense...pretty much the only Trail Blazers player to do so. Things perked up when the offense started flowing; both teams ran out and scored in transition. Damian Lillard had mastery in the halfcourt offense, but that was counterbalanced by the Cavaliers’ bench scoring big. Portland led 29-28 after one.
The Blazers shot well from distance in the second (3-6), but the Cavaliers did even better (6-9). Carmelo Anthony poured in buckets like crazy. The Blazers also made hay inside.
Marlow Ferguson, Jr. confirms that Lillard continued to rule the floor, scoring 18 points on his first 7 shots. He’d finish the half 5-11 with 18 points and 6 assists. That was despite Cleveland sending the house—sometimes a FULL house—on defense. Portland also fed Nurkic inside. Ferguson, Jr. credits Melo’s scoring, Anfernee Simons’ shot, Nassir Little’s hustle, and Enes Kanter’s offensive rebounding as reasons the Blazers put together a strong second period. All off this offset a bad shooting night from CJ McCollum.
Derrick Jones, Jr., starting in the place of Norman Powell due to injury, picked up the defense full court against Cavs point guard Collin Sexton, but Sexton still managed 10 at the half. Sexton bending the defense inside was one of the reasons Cleveland had so many open threes. Still, Portland’s plusses far outweighed those of the Cavs. The Blazers led 67-57 at the half.
Portland played their offense to perfection at the start of the third. Everything was a layup or a three-pointer. The same was pretty much true for the Cavaliers, but that’s the beautiful thing about owning a double-digit lead yourself instead of trying to make up for the opponent’s: playing even still leaves you ahead. The Blazers made good use of baseline cuts and straight-line drives to score easy, salting in distance attempts as necessary. Cleveland went further and further outside as the quarter progressed. It didn’t help them much. The Blazers ran a zone defense for a while, but it wasn’t that good. They just don’t cover for each other well enough, no matter what kind of scheme they use. Permissive defense and a couple fast breaks given up let Cleveland crawl back to within 7, but Lillard put a stop to that with a three. When Simons struck quickly from behind the arc a couple minutes later, you got the sense that the Blazers were on easy street. When Lillard hit a three a the buzzer to put his team up 102-80 after three, the game was all but over.
Portland’s bench squad started the fourth period along with CJ McCollum. It was a no-lose prospect; if any of the smaller players missed a shot, Kanter just vacuumed it back up and put it in the hoop. Cavaliers fans got a jolt of excitement as former Portland Trail Blazers salary cap lurker Anderson Varejao checked into the game midway through the period. (I think he played a bit for the Cavs too.) Portland completed the blowout by posting their third straight 30-point quarter of the evening and that was all she wrote.
Stay tuned for Ryne Buchanan’s analysis of the game coming up soon!
Portland returns home to face the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. The game will be critical for a couple of reasons. Portland is battling the Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks for the 5th-7th seeds in the Western Conference. The winner of Friday’s game will earn the head-to-head tiebreaker against the other. Also, this will be the first game in which fans will be allowed inside Moda Center.