Well, less almost and more momentarily. After some heroic exploits in the third quarter from the “other other guys” on a team powered by “other guys” at the moment, the Cavs pulled away in the fourth quarter to make it not much of a game in the end. The final from the Moda Center had the Cavs winners: 109-95.
The Trail Blazers played their new scrappy brand of basketball once again, even on the second night of a back-to-back. But eternal droughts on offense at different parts of the game became the home team’s undoing — along with far too much Donovan Mitchell on the other side. The four-time NBA All-Star was the best player on the floor and played like it, scoring 34 points on 13-20 shooting.
Portland put forth a balanced attack, with six players scoring in double figures, but not nearly as potent. Veteran forward Jerami Grant and the aforementioned Reath led the way with 17 points and 16 points, respectively. A valiant effort wasn’t enough once again, as the Trail Blazers dropped their fifth straight game.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
We’ll start the nitty-gritty of the breakdown with where the Trail Blazers tried to start this game: in the post with center Deandre Ayton. There have been rumblings from some fans and media about Ayton’s lack of inclusion on offense in the early going of the season, especially after it was common assumption he’d be freed to enjoy a more featured role in his new destination. Head Coach Chauncey Billups even addressed the issue a few games back, saying the coaching staff was still learning how to use its new big man. On Wednesday, for the second game in a row, the Trail Blazers made a concerted effort to feed DA early — it just didn’t yield the same favorable results as it did against Utah.
On the first play of the game, Portland ran a set with a cross screen to try to free up Ayton on the left block, but he was effectively denied the entry pass by his defender and help over the top. That play was a lot of Portland’s scheme in the early part of the game: screens to get Ayton touches on the block or at the foul line. When Ayton did free enough space to get a catch, which wasn’t easy against the likes of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, he never settled into a rhythm. He missed a baby hook on his first attempt, and then two badly missed midrange jumpers relative to his efficient stroke from that area. The best and most comfortable shot he took was his fourth. Ayton got the ball out of the pick-and-roll with a bit of a running start at the top of the key and attacked Allen with momentum, sinking a confident hook shot.
From there, the Trail Blazers went to Ayton less and less as the game progressed. Part of that was due to the Cavs clogging the paint with their size and length, enhanced by the fact Portland struggled to make 3s. Part of that was Portland seemed to go away from Ayton. The two reasons were likely intertwined. Ayton took four shots in the first quarter, three in the second quarter and then only three in the second half. He finished with six points on 3-10 shooting and six rebounds.
With Ayton failing to be the guy on offense, nobody else stepped up to fill the void and score with enough consistency and volume. It led to some downright painful stretches of basketball where the Trail Blazers could not buy a bucket. If there was one reason to highlight as the reason for the loss, it’d be the droughts — severe enough to force Matthew McConaughey to hop in a rocket and go find a new planet for mankind.
The Trail Blazers struggled to shoot 3-pointers for most of the game — save for a surprise wellspring that appeared in the third quarter. The otherwise brutal percentage allowed Cleveland to sit back on drives and pack the paint, inviting challenger after challenger to meet the 7-foot towers of Mobley and Allen. Evidence of the paint-packing: Cleveland got called for three defensive three-second violations in the first half. The Trail Blazers weren’t just missing occasional open 3s, they were struggling to generate any sort of clean looks, often working possessions deep into the shot clock. Two-way contract guard Jamaree Bouyea got handed a couple of late-possession grenades he had to launch up from deep, missing the rim on both for shot clock violations.
One of the droughts happened in the first quarter, after the Trail Blazers led 6-5 at the 9:35 mark. Portland didn’t score a point over the next three minutes, and scored just five points over the next six minutes, enabling Cleveland to shoot out to a 25-11 lead. After coming back from that setback, the next big struggle came at the start of the third quarter, as Portland scored just six points in the opening six minutes and Cleveland pushed its lead to 70-53. Portland would come back again, but the multiple uphill climbs proved too much to overcome in the end.
The Trail Blazers held on as long as they did because of spirited D and hustle, minus some occasional breakdowns. But those cold spells helped lower their shooting percentage to 37.4% for the game. Facing that, the Cavs didn’t have to shoot the lights out; they just had to be average enough to gain separation.
Call in the Reinforcements
Glossed over in that recap of offensive woes were two Trail Blazers’ comebacks. What happened there? The bench came in — along with a little Skylar Mays wizardry — and reignited the team each time it looked like things were headed to garbage time early.
The bench even outscored the starters 48-47. Most importantly, the bench contributors made 3s. Nine of Portland’s 13 3s came from the bench unit. Duop (That Thing) Reath, a pick-and-pop gunner, went 2-2. Thybulle and Jabari Walker each knocked down 3-4 apiece. It all came raining down in the third quarter, when Portland rode the shooting of Thybulle and Reath to go 6-10 from deep for the quarter and break that 17-point deficit down to as little as five. After beginning the game 2-12 on 3s, the bench helped Portland actually perform better than Cleveland in that category, going 13-38.
Thybulle scored 13 points on 5-6 shooting. He also led the team with six deflections and three steals, helping generate easy points on fast breaks. He played well enough to cut into Toumani Camara’s minutes. Reath let it fly, but also got a few bunnies and leak-outs for his 16 points on 6-8 from the field. Walker scored 12 points. And Mays helped orchestrate a lot of the action, especially in the first quarter run. Three of his four assists set up the bench, including this filthy maneuvering that got Kris Murray his first pro bucket.
put em in a twister ️ pic.twitter.com/dW4kE5q3z1— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) November 16, 2023
Too Much Mitchell
The Cavs had a not-so-secret weapon that carried them across the finish line: Donovan Mitchell. Portland even defended Mitchell well for the most part, but he made a steady diet out of difficult shots. Sprinkle in some Max Strus here and there and a very efficient 21 points from Mobley, and Portland was in trouble. The Trail Blazers needed a challenger to step forth and go mano a mano with the Cleveland King. Nobody got above 20 points, including Shaedon Sharpe, who shot 2-12 for 11 points. Mitchell helped the Cavs go on a mini run to start the fourth quarter and the game was gone.
The Trail Blazers will host the Los Angeles Lakers for an In-Season Tournament game on Friday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. PST.