Blazers Smother Cleveland
As bounce-back games go, this one sufficed just fine.
The Trail Blazers weren't out to win a beauty contest on Sunday night, and it's a good thing. After Friday night's stinker in Phoenix, all they cared about was getting a win and getting back on track. They also showed that offense is struggling, just concentrate a little harder on defense, and that's the best way to survive.
So, with that in mind, forget that Portland shot 41 percent from the field, and try and concentrate on the fact that they held Cleveland to 37 percent shooting. They recorded 14 steals, forced the Cavs into 24 turnovers, took over the game in the third quarter, and coasted to an easy 97-78 victory at the Rose Garden.
This game did have some fun moments, as the Trail Blazers had a few spectacular defense plays, and some nice dunks, and hopefully most of our TV audience stuck with the game long enough to see the highlights. If you covered your eyes in the first quarter, or flipped over to see what episode of "Pawn Stars" was rolling on History, I don't blame you. The first 12 minutes were unattractive- like Tori-Spelling-without-makeup unattractive.
The Cavs and Blazers combined to shoot 14 for 49 in that opening frame. When you can't hit a single thing from the field, it's always nice when your opponent follows you down that tubes. Cleveland certainly did. That was kind of the surprising part. The Cavs had been shooting it pretty well lately, and that was a big concern coming into this game. Yes, I'll give Portland's defense some credit here. They made everything tough on Cleveland.
One huge improvement in Portland's defense this season is that it's no longer simply a read-and-react approach. They take chances, they get into passing lanes, and they force the action. This means they don't pack the middle. This means they cover three-point shooters very, very well. No one has shot the three ball well against the Blazers this season.
The Cavs came into this game shooting 41 percent from behind the three-point line, good for fourth in the NBA. But, on this night, with hands in their faces, they were just 3 for 24. That turned into a huge key, because teams like this learn to stay in games because of the long ball. That option was simply taken away from them.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for the Trail Blazers with 28 points and 8 rebounds. He had to rally in the second half to get those numbers, and was very solid in the final two quarters. He also led the fast break on many occasions. Portland ended with 22 fast-break points.
Wesley Matthews was the reason Portland didn't get into a big, early hole in this game, as he was the only player who had it going at all offensively. Matthews ended with 24 points, on 8 of 17 shooting, and added 3 bombs.
After not getting a single field goal (for the second time this season) against Phoenix, Gerald Wallace had a good bounce-back game as well. He had 16 points, 6 rebounds, and had the block of the season so far. In the third quarter he raced to catch up with Anderson Varejao, who thought he had an easy dunk. Wallace flew in from behind and erased the shot at the rim. That was inspiring stuff.
Now the homestand gets significantly tougher. The Trail Blazers host the Clippers on Tuesday night, and Orlando on Wednesday. That's followed by a six-game, 10-day road trip. That's followed by Portland's first set of back-to-back-to-back games.
For now, it's a 6-2 record for the Trail Blazers, and a ho-hum win against a team they should have beaten. That's just what happened.
No night off for the broadcast crew. We'll be back at it Monday evening with Trail Blazers Courtside, from 6-7pm, on Comcast Sportsnet, the Blazers Radio Network, and trailblazers.com. See you then.