Well, that was fun for awhile. The Cavs played another quality game, coming off a tough win against the Lakers against a Blazers team that hadn’t played in four days. They played well, fighting with the 29-9 Blazers for most of the game, but a barrage of threes submarined the Cavs late, and the team fell to 14-25 on the season.
The Cavs and Blazers got off to a raucous start in a fun first half. Both teams shot well in the first quarter, with the Blazers pushing a frenetic pace, and the Cavs matching to the best of their ability. Luol Deng had some fun early against Nic Batum, hitting his first four shots for 10 points in the opening stanza. Tristan Thompson played some excellent defense on LaMarcus Aldridge, who started cold, and the Cavs didn’t allow the Blazers to burn them from outside early, limiting Portland’s open looks and forcing a few bad mid-rangers early. However, the Blazers were still able to execute thanks to their impressive use of on-ball screens, particularly when Aldridge and Lillard played the two-man game. Lillard found his way to the rim plenty of times, and the Cavs, who slowed down slightly as the quarter went on, found themselves up only one point after the first despite a brilliant offensive flurry.
In the second, the Cavs extended their lead, using one of the great revelations of the last week or so; the brilliant two-man game of Jarrett Jack and Tyler Zeller. Jack helped set up two early Zeller baskets, including one monster throw-down over Joel Freeland to put the team up 32-30. Dion Waiters also got going at the beginning of the quarter, extending the lead to eight as the Blazers had an almost four-minute scoring drought. However, then came Lillard. Dame got to the line a couple times, and also hit a couple threes to breathe life into a previously struggling Blazers’ three-point game, and the Blazers were right back with the Cavs. LaMarcus Aldridge scored the last five Blazers points of the half as Anderson Varejao committed a couple of bad turnovers offensively, and the Blazers went in up 54-50 after a half.
The third quarter featured more of the same; the Cavs continued their torrid scoring pace (for them), and the Blazers kept matching at every turn. Damian Lillard went cold in the third, as Kyrie played some decent defense on the flashy point, but they were still able to turn the offense over to LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews. The teams traded blows for the first half of the quarter, but the Cavs got on a little run after a Lillard dunk. Dion, who had 13 points through 3 quarters, and Deng drove the run, while the Blazers struggled to find offensive continuity. But then, like we’ve seen how many times this season, the Cavs fell apart at the end of the quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge took over, scoring the Blazers’ last six points this time around, including a buzzer-beater to make it 77-75 after three.
Then, the fourth quarter. After three quarters of straight buckets, the fourth showcased the same type of drama you saw in the first matchup with the Blazers. Anderson Varejao tied the game up at 77 with a bucket to start the quarter, but a couple possessions later, the Blazers got a solid effort sequence from Thomas Robinson; first, a monster dunk off a solid Mo Williams dish. Then, a couple possessions later, Robinson made a beautiful weakside rotation to stuff what looked to be a wide-open Tristan Thompson layup. That quickly was converted into a Mo Williams three at the other end, and the Blazers led 86-80.
But the Cavs continued to fight. A couple minutes later, Tristan Thompson got another dunk look and converted, and that was followed by a Dion step-back jumper to tie the game at 88. Then the Blazers hit a couple threes, and the Cavs answered right back again with a Dion three and a Varejao jumper to tie it at 96. Then the Blazers did what they do best. First, a couple Aldridge buckets to make it 102-96. Then, a Wes Matthews three. Then a Lillard three. Suddenly, the game was 108-96, and that was how it would end. The Blazers put the Cavs away with a death rain of clutch outside shots, and there was nothing the Cavs could really do about it. They got decent shots from outside, but couldn’t get them to fall, and that’s how this one ended.
PG Kyrie Irving- 21 points (7-20 shooting, 1-7 3PT), two rebounds, four assists
Kyrie was alright tonight. He really never got his outside game going, doing most of his damage at the rim and at the line. He particularly struggled defensively in the first half against Lillard, and late in the game when the Cavs relied on him to create and get back into the game. Six missed threes is a lot, and that’s tough to overcome. However, the main bright spot? From the beginning of the third quarter until about two minutes left in the game, Kyrie was fantastic on defense, keeping Lillard from scoring in the third and helping to keep the Blazers’ pick-and-pop game from killing them. That fell apart late, of course, but it was still good to see a solid defensive effort against Lillard after the last contest’s struggles.
SG C.J. Miles- five points (2-6 shooting, 1-3 3PT), two rebounds
Not really much you can say about Miles in this one. He didn’t play much, mainly because Dion Waiters was creating well and the Cavs elected to play Kyrie and Dion together for large stretches, not wanting Irving/Miles to kill them defensively. His two makes were a floater in the first on my favorite play in the Cavs’ playbook (A dribble-handoff leading to a Miles floater in the lane), and a corner three in the third quarter. Nothing special.
SF Luol Deng- 25 points (10-20 shooting, 2-7 3PT), six rebounds, three steals
Deng was solid once again. He played really well defensively, and was the main scorer for the Cavs in the first quarter. It’s been really nice to see him step up and take on a big role in the Cavs’ offense so far, and he’s even been creating a little bit, which is a tad unexpected given the amount of creators the Cavs already have, and how little he’s relied on that in the past. It remains to be seen how the long-term management of minutes between Deng and Miles will be handled, but Deng played a huge amount tonight, and didn’t seem to have any adverse effects. He was probably the best player for the Cavs tonight.
PF Tristan Thompson- 10 points (4-8 shooting), 10 rebounds
Man, TT was bad tonight. And I don’t just mean defensively. He really struggled to get good looks on offense, and absolutely disappeared for stretches. He got pounded on the glass, pulling down 10 rebounds, but giving up quite a few more as he got outmuscled by Aldridge and Robin Lopez for much of the game. And his second half defense was so abyssmal that the Cavs switched Varejao onto Aldridge because he kept killing Thompson. The blocked layup by Thomas Robinson was just icing on the cake, as Tristan just got shredded tonight.
C Anderson Varejao- eight points (4-7 shooting), 14 rebounds, four assists, three steals
Varejao’s night was once again full of hustle plays and bad mistakes at crucial times. He had 14 rebounds, leading the Cavs and grabbing some crucial ones when they started gunning for the win. However, he also had two bad turnovers at the end of the first half, and that somewhat-phantom foul on LMA in the fourth somewhat swung the tide of the game. However, it still stands that Varejao had a typical night for him. He couldn’t really get many elbow jumper opportunities, which meant his offense was a non-factor, but he was still a net positive for the Cavs tonight all things considered.
G Dion Waiters- 18 points (8-19 shooting, 1-3 3PT), three assists
Somewhat a pick by default, seeing as the Cavs really didn’t play their bench much outside of the first half. Waiters had some good moments, like his And-1 in the second quarter and his stepback that still has Mo Williams backpedaling somewhere into Southern Washington. However, his shot selection, as usual, was iffy, and he didn’t really move the ball much, preferring to just take it himself. He did play well defensively relative to the rest of the team, but that’s a given. This was a typical Dion night, and there’s not much more to say about it.
The Cavs didn’t go very deep into their bench tonight, as outside of Waiters, Jack and Dellavedova, no one played more than 12 minutes off the bench. This seemed to work, as Brown rarely subbed, and kept the continuity of the lineups that worked going for long stretches. However, in a game like this, against a tough team, on a back-to-back, in a fast-paced game, that ended up capsizing the team in the end. I’m all for this practice, especially when C.J. isn’t feeling it and Zeller gets in foul trouble like he did tonight. However, this was not the ideal scenario for the end of the game. I think scheme-wise the Cavs did well trying to match the intensity of the Blazers’ pace, and their defensive gameplan was good against a juggernaut like Portland. I have no complaints with the coaching tonight. Just a tough loss in a tough situation. Now, the Cavs have to end their road trip in perhaps an even tougher environment; coming off a loss AT Denver, in the mountains, on one day of rest.