The Portland Trail Blazers played a problematic, spotty two and a half quarters against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night. Extra turnovers and a complete lack of size appeared to doom them against the defensive-minded Cavs. But a huge surge of three-point shooting, rebounding, and Shaedon Sharpe pushed Portland through the mid-third period and on through the fourth. A double-digit deficit turned into an equally impressive lead in the final period, yielding a 103-95 final score that gave the Blazers their 6th win of the season.
Portland overcame 23 turnovers by forcing 19 themselves. The Blazers gave up 50 points in the paint but shot 40% (14-35) from the three-point arc. Most of all, they had Shaedon Sharpe, who led the comeback with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists on an impressive 11-15 shooting night, 4-7 from deep.
Here’s how the game went, from the canyons of misery to the heights of victory.
Deandre Ayton started the game with a couple of nice hoops, but Portland’s offense sputtered and stuttered after that. Cleveland was too good defensively, bothering the Blazers every time they took it in the lane. Fortunately, the Cavaliers couldn’t hit anything beyond two feet either. The Battle of Bad Offense left Cleveland ahead 12-6 at the 8:00 mark.
Portland got a couple running buckets after that, but the Cavs solved their lack of offense beyond 24 inches the easiest way possible: making shot after shot in the restricted area. 9-15 shooting was the result, keeping Cleveland comfortably ahead. Cleveland led 23-15 with just under 3:00 left.
Turnovers and missed shots continued to plague Portland as the quarter closed. Duop Reath and Scoot Henderson struck late, though. Their 5 points covered up a lot of sins. Cleveland led 25-22 after one.
The Blazers got housed in the first four minutes of the second period. Turnovers took away opportunities. Malcolm Brogdon committed three himself. 0-4 three-point shooting did the rest of the heavy lifting on Portland’s demise. Meanwhile Cleveland scored and scored some more, treating the lane like a cruise ship buffet. Their 3-point lead at the start of the period became 15 by the 6:22 mark, when Head Coach Chauncey Billups finally called a, “Really, Guys?” timeout.
Shaedon Sharpe and Jerami Grant struck after that, scoring 7 quick points that made their team’s deficit look not quite as serious. Then Sharpe got on a huge heater, scoring and passing as if he were the star point guard the team has been waiting to emerge. The Blazers bullied Cleveland into turnovers of their own, flipping the script on the major game trend. Had Portland not turned it back to Cleveland in the last 90 seconds, they would have gone into halftime nearly tied. As it was, they trailed 46-40.
Portland’s addiction to falling behind early in quarters continued unabated in the third quarter. The Blazers got off one (1) field goal attempt in the first 2:04 of the period. They missed it. The Cavs already had 8 points by that time. Cleveland’s lead was back to 14 by the time three minutes expired.
Sharpe and Brogdon hit back-to-back threes to cut the lead to single digits again. That was a shaky platform for Portland to build a victory on. Then Grant joined the party, making prospects brighter. The Blazers still couldn’t stop Cleveland from scoring inside, though. The threes were keeping them afloat, but not getting them ahead.
The launch-fest did have a nice side effect, though. Cleveland got caught up in it too, abandoning their lane attack for a while in favor of the three. Portland’s defense stiffening in the paint helped shoved them that way too. The Cavs weren’t nearly as proficient from distance as they were close in.
Portland managed to cut the lead to 8, 70-62, at the mandatory timeout with 3:16 remaining. It was a mirror image of the first periods. Each time it repeated, though, the comeback came harder. The Blazers would need a sustainable push if they were going to pull off a victory.
They found the magic as the quarter closed. Sharpe and Toumani Camara each drove baseline for dunks. Then Sharpe and Duop Reath hit back to back threes. That tied the score at 70 with 1:27 remaining in the third. A Matisse Thybulle tip of a Scoot Henderson miss gave Portland a brief, symbolic lead of 1 with 8 seconds remaining. Cleveland scored once more, leaving the score 75-74, Cleveland at the end of three.
Shaedon Sharpe made sure Portland’s propensity for giving up huge leads at the start of every period did not repeat in the fourth. He hit a layup, assisted on a Matisse Thybulle three. then hit a triple of his own. Even with Cleveland scoring, Portland led 83-80 at the 10:00 mark.
At the same time, Portland’s wings converged on the lane defensively to take away one of the advantages the Cavs had owned all game long: offensive rebounding. Sharpe. Thybulle, and Jabari Walker all grabbed BIG boards, limiting the Cavs to one shot per trip. Soon after Walker cut the lane to receive a sweet pass for a dunk. Portland led 88-83 when Cleveland called timeout with 7:41 remaining.
After the TO, Walker scored again on the interior and Thybulle pick-sixed for a layup. Then Scoot drove straight down the lane and flipped the ball to Reath in the corner for a swished three. With an unorthodox, but hard-charging, lineup on the floor, the Blazers built a 95-83 lead. Cleveland called another timeout with 6:08 remaining.
The tempo remained quick, with turnovers and broken plays for both teams, as the game wound to a close. Portland started missing shots as Donovan Mitchell, heretofore silent, started asserting himself on the offensive end. Portland’s returning starters reprised their clumsy ball-care of the earlier periods. With 2:30 remaining, the Cavaliers had snuck back to within 4, 95-91.
When the Blazers needed a superhero, they turned to Sharpe, who drove past half of Cleveland’s defense for a halfcourt layup with 1:33 remaining, giving the Blazers an 8-point lead, 99-91. When Malcolm Brogdon drew a pump-fake foul with 1:04 remaining and hit the free throws, that gave Portland a 101-93 lead. It was plenty enough insurance to carry the game.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming up soon.
Portland heads to Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz on Saturday with a 6:30 PM, Pacific start time.