The Portland Trail Blazers gave the Cleveland Cavaliers a good run when the teams met on Friday night. Portland dominated the offensive glass, fed their forwards for multiple three-pointers, and stayed committed on defense for 48 minutes in a fashion seldom seen this season. As a result, they remained within striking distance of the Cavaliers for most of the contest. But a blistering fourth period from Cedi Osman, plus persistent scoring inside by the large Cavs lineup, proved too much for the Blazers to handle. It was a pretty loss, but a loss nonetheless, as Portland fell 114-101.
Robert Covington shot 5-8 from the arc, scoring 17 points in the loss. Dennis Smith, Jr. added 10 off the bench. Jusuf Nurkic notched 4 offensive rebounds, leading his team on their way to a huge 16.
Both teams started the game in Bizarro World, with the short-ish Blazers pounding the ball into the paint against Cleveland’s big lineup, the Cavs firing threes over their smaller counterparts. Neither found much success. The Blazers did get a couple of fast break opportunities, their speed shaping up to be one of the advantages in the contest. Unfortunately, they didn’t convert on any of them. Halfway through the first period, neither squad was on pace to score 20.
Scoring picked up as the bench units took over. Robert Covington hit a three. But Kevin Love stroked one right back and new addition Rajon Rondo dished assists like it was free sample day at Costco. Evan Mobley did damage in the lane as Rondo kept the tempo quick. The end result was a measured, but very Cleveland-like, 24-21 lead for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers spend the opening minutes of the second attacking the lane and drawing fouls. They seemed committed to moving Portland’s defense, then knocking the teeth out of it. The returning Cody Zeller helped the Blazers stand somewhat firm. It didn’t hurt that Portland was willing to cede open threes to put extra men in the paint. Portland countered by trying to run the offense quicker, getting shots up before the Cavs could get set. Slicing through the lane for drifting layups became a hallmark. Portland actually streaked ahead of Cleveland in paint points despite their relative lack of size. Occasional threes salted the scoreboard (Nurkic and Rondo each hit two), but inside scoring and free throws typified the frame. The Blazers could have used more backcourt scoring, but it was hard to come by.
Cleveland stretched out the range as the period closed. Their inside scoring already had Portland shading towards the interior. After a certain point, the Cavs stood one pass away from an open three in perpetuity. Deep strikes took Cleveland from a slight lead to double digits. A Covington flagrant on a Rondo drive added impulse to the Cavaliers run. Nurkic picking up two quick fouls on back-to-back plays soon after didn’t help. It seemed like Portland was trying to get into the halftime locker room without disintegrating. Anfernee Simons took over the offense to keep his team alive. They remained so, finishing the half down 57-47.
Portland’s defense came alive in the third period in at least one sense. They sent the Cavaliers to the line repeatedly, getting into the penalty early. Cleveland hit approximately zero of their foul shots. The power of prayer, a stray wind through Moda Center...whatever the cause, blown free throws turned potentially productive Cavs possessions into empty doughnuts. At the same time, Portland’s three-point shooting came alive. That imbalance allowed the Blazers to come back, trimming Cleveland’s lead in half. Credit Covington for shooting and hitting deep shots like he was the first option in the offense. The comeback was built on his back.
As mightily as the Blazers shot from distance, Cleveland’s interior scoring kept rolling across the landscape like a mudslide. It never spike high; it just couldn’t be stopped. Even when Portland’s offense got hot, they found themselves down 12 again.
To their credit, Portland didn’t give up. When Cleveland missed, the Blazers rebounded and ran. Covington kept shooting, guards kept penetrating...little by little the margin closed again. By the time the period was over, Portland had hit 7 of 15 free throws, not in the game, in the FRAME. When the clock struck 0:00, the Blazers only trailed by 4, 82-78.
The fourth period began like the first period had, with neither team able to buy a bucket. The Blazers played quick, but somewhat sloppy. The Cavaliers played slow, but stagnant. Cleveland was saved by a trio of threes from Cedi Osman. Covington might have loved to answer for Portland, but he had picked up his fifth foul in the waning moments of the third and was sitting, waiting for his turn to strike back. Before that could happen, Jarrett Allen started grabbing offensive rebounds like a monster, giving his team second opportunities that, to this point, had been the exclusive province of the Blazers. By mid-quarter, Cleveland led by 10 again.
At that point, Cleveland’s deliberate style began to pay dividends. Portland sprinted and threw up shots. Few connected and, with their players out of position, offensive rebounds became rare. The Cavaliers took their time on every possession, milking the clock and protecting the lead. When Osman hit another three with 2:39 remaining, followed by a pair of Portland turnovers and Cleveland scores, the game was all but over. The Blazers’ runs had been impressive, but in the end, the Cavaliers’ patient inside-out game prevailed.
Stay tuned for analysis of the evening coming up soon!
The Blazers draw the Sacramento Kings on Sunday with a 6:00 PM. Pacific start.