The Portland Trail Blazers rode inspiring bench play through a hard-fought contest with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Moda Center on Wednesday night. Jabari Walker, Matisse Thybulle, and Duop Reath came up huge, combining for 41 points, spearheading multiple scoreboard surges throughout the evening.
Cleveland’s starters had their way with the Blazers inside the lane, though. Between that and Donovan Mitchell’s scoring, Portland’s bench streaks could barely keep the team above water. They had no chance of darting ahead.
In the end, Portland couldn’t overcome 60 paint points by the Cavaliers, nor their own 37.4% shooting rate. The Blazers fell 109-95. They now hold a 3-8 record for the season.
Mitchell led all scorers with 34 points, doubling up Jerami Grant, Portland’s leading scorer, who had 17.
The Blazers got off to a rough start, hitting only 1 of their first 9 shots. The defense was opportunistic, occasionally effective, but no amount of defending could make up for the lack of point production. Portland trailed 17-8 at the halfway mark of the period. They had no offensive rebounds. Cleveland’s defense pretty much had them clocked.
During that same stretch, Donovan Mitchell and Evan Mobley hit pretty much every shot they took. The Cavs as a whole shot 60% from the field, over 40% from the arc. Portland’s perimeter defense was woefully ineffective against Cleveland’s guards. It was a lot.
That was before the Cavs zeroed in on Portland dribblers and started forcing turnovers from players they knew had to take the rock in hand, lacking alternatives. Portland always had the option to toss it out for a three, but you know how that goes.
Portland’s bench players forced a couple turnovers for run-outs in the final 3:30 of the first, making the score look much more presentable. Other than that, they never really ended up stopping the Cavs. The scoreboard read 30-25, Cleveland after one.
The second unit picked up the second period just where they left off the first, forcing turnovers and running out. Two easy buckets brought the Blazers back within 1, 30-29, almost instantly. Matisse Thybulle, playing his best game of the season, stroked a sideline three a minute later to tie the game at 32. Turnovers became the engine that sped up the offense. The look was dramatically better. The Blazers would eventually build a 4-point lead.
Caris LeVert came back strong, though, pummeling Portland’s bench like they were, well, reserve players. LaVert got after it on both ends, keeping his team ahead despite the flurry from the Blazers.
As the quarter progressed, the Blazers flagged, They stopped forcing turnovers and started committing them. They gave up offensive boards they could ill afford. Three minutes after Portland tied the game, the Cavaliers had the lead back to double digits again.
Shaedon Sharpe wanted to take over the action mid-quarter. He had a semi-pleasant effect on the defensive end, but Cleveland smelled his ball-dominance on offense and started closing in. Sharpe’s attack got broken before it even started, keeping the Blazers from making a serious run.
Jabari Walker struck a couple times from distance in the period. He also hustled hard as the half approached. Cleveland still led 55-47 at the half.
The pace got a little frantic at the start of the third, but that didn’t help the Blazers connect. Their shot chart looked like the hardwood got Chicken Pox. They missed 8 of their first 10 shots in an eerie echo of the start of the game.
Cleveland, meanwhile, treated the restricted area like an all-you-can-eat buffet, hitting a half dozen at the rim in the first 5 minutes. When Georges Niang hit a straight-away three with 5:39 remaining, the Cavs led 67-53 and it was time for a timeout.
Once again, though, the Blazers made a big run to close the period. The three-pointer was good to them, with Thybulle, Walker, and Duop Reath all connecting. Behind their distance shooting, the Blazers closed the lead to 6 within the final 90 seconds. Cleveland ended up ahead by 8, 83-75, at the end of the third.
Matisse Thybulle scored twice in the first few seconds of the fourth period, once on a dunk when the Cavaliers overplayed Shaedon Sharpe, again on a break-away after a Sharpe disruption. Despite a couple of opportunistic stands, the Blazers couldn’t stop the Cavaliers in the paint at all. Portland’s four in the restricted area got overwhelmed by Cleveland’s eight. Adrenaline surged, the Cavs’ lead right alongside it. Donovan Mitchell stroked a three with 8:25 remaining, giving Cleveland a 99-81 advantage, It was time for the Trail Blazers starters to come back in.
If you think that story ends happily, you didn’t read much of the recap prior to this. Cleveland handled Portland’s first unit at the close of the fourth just as easily as they had in every other quarter. The starters couldn’t stop Mitchell, never plugged the hole in the lane, and couldn’t generate enough turnovers or offensive rebounds to make up for it, The game ended with a whimper, despite the heroic effort from Portland’s bench.
Stay tuned for extended analysis coming soon.
The Blazers will host the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night with a 7:00, Pacific start. This is the third qualifying game for the NBA In-Season Tournament for both teams.