On the shoulders of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Trail Blazers officially put their ugly loss in Phoenix to bed with a 20-point defeat of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The 98-78 final score puts the game into the solid win category, but would have felt much better had it been earned in a more decisive fashion. The Trail Blazers took a 42-35 lead into the half after ending the second quarter on a 12-3 run. Prior to then the game was a back-and-forth with six lead changes.
“I just felt like we had to work harder. We needed to dig down and work harder on both ends of the floor,” head coach Nate McMillan said of the slow first half. “Defensively, we were kind of just like in a daze, kind of flat. It looked very similar to the Phoenix game. Then we got going.”
And get going they did. As has been the tendency with the Trail Blazers, play came together and clicked in the third quarter.
Team captain Aldridge racked up 14 of his 28 points on 50 percent shooting from the field in the third quarter alone. Add his 6-of-6 from the free throw line and his four quick-handed steals and it’s easy to see how his teammates were encouraged to follow his lead and break open a 12-point lead on the Cavs.
“I think our trend has been that defensively we’ve always gotten better in the second half,” Aldridge said. “And every game that we’ve won this year, I think we kinda feel you out in the first half and then in the second half we get our second wind and turn it up.”
Defense did click in the second half. Portland forced 14 turnovers for 21 points and found the extra step that was missing in Phoenix and through the first two periods tonight. That additional energy on the defensive end allowed for the offensive game-plan to be executed more smoothly.
“We want to go in the paint and establish ourselves through LaMarcus or penetration,” McMillan said. “Even though we’re pushing the ball, when we talk about attacking, we want to get to the rim whether that’s post-ups or penetration. If the outside shot comes from that, we’ll take that but we don’t want to settle for perimeter jump shots. So we want to play through LaMarcus.”
Turning it up tonight and executing, regardless of the timing, yielded results. Portland’s starting forwards Aldridge and Gerald Wallace outscored Cleveland’s starting forwards Antawn Jamison and Omri Casspi by a score of 44-13. Jamison, the Cavs’ leading scorer, what neutralized by Portland’s defense and put up a goose egg in the first half. He scored only three points in the second.
As Aldridge mentioned, the Trail Blazers seemed to have set a trend when it comes to putting together motion in the second half of games. A trend that proved successful tonight, but may be deadly in the future.
His stellar second half performance exemplified the impact the go-to guy on a squad has, he’s a game changer. If he can light it up two quarters sooner, wins like these will fall into the decisive category. A much more comfortable realm for a team pushing to greatness.