Basketball games are a collection of moments. This game had so many that it’s impossible to describe them all…. six blocks… 8 steals… 41 free throws… 100 rebounds… 194 shots. After 192 of those shots, the game came down to one moment. The Cavs and Trail Blazers were tied at 116. With 7 seconds left, Damian Lillard was isolated at the top of the three point line against Alonzo Gee. Lillard’s teammates were flattened out along the baseline. Lillard dribbled, dribbled, gave a slight shoulder fake, and with 2 seconds left, rose up for a 30 footer over Gee’s too far away hand. As time expired expired, the ball slid silkily through the net… and after, the world felt slightly more deflated.
Of course, time hadn’t expired. There were .4 seconds left after the officials spent a few minutes looking at the replay. After a timeout, the man who seems required to take all shots for the Cavs at the ends of games, caught the ball and stepped into a 40 footer that missiled off the back of the rim as the horn blew. The loss begged many questions. Why did Alonzo Gee have to be the one guarding Lillard? Why did Gee allow Lillard to shoot out there? Did he read the scouting report on Lillard? Did anyone realize that Lillard had already hit seven threes? Why does Kyrie have to be the one to take the shot at the end of every game?
The first few questions deserve answering. Dellavedova played the best defense of anyone on Damian Lillard. Did playing Delly there cross Mike Brown’s mind? Gee is 6’6″, and if you’re going to give up a shot, you give up a 30 footer. But Damian Lillard, heroics at Detroit notwithstanding, is 64-180 this year from inside the key, or about 35.6%. Wouldn’t that have been a smarter option? Do defensive players watch the shot clock? Shouldn’t you start crowding a guy when there’s two seconds left? Why not get the ball out of his hands? Funnel him two your bigs with no time to pass? We’ll never know Alonzo Gee’s thought processes in those moments.
Lillard made a great shot. It wasn’t the primary reason the Cavs lost. Plenty contributed. And what about the other question? Well, to answer why Kyrie Irving was taking that shot, it’s necessary to go back in time.
Three (game) minutes earlier… 109-104, Portland. Dion Waiters, drives, is bodied by Joel Freeland and hit on the arm by LaMarcus Aldridge. Misses the layup… no call as he falls to the floor and Tristan falls over him. Portland pushes into a ready-made four on three break. Lillard hits Wesley Matthews for a three from the left corner. Bang. 112-104, Blazers.
2:37… Jarrett Jack launches a wide open twenty foot brick. 2:15… Matthews to LaMarcus Aldridge on the left block. He swishes an un-guardable turnaround over Tristan Thompson. 114-104, Portland. 2:01… Andy misses a free throw line J. Thompson grabs the rebound. Fouled. He makes 1-2. 114-105, Portland.
1:40… Nic Batum clanks a 26 footer from the left wing. Irving grabs the rebound pushes the ball up the right side. Runs Lillard to about 20 feet in, stops, dribbles backward, squares up at the right wing. Swishes a three. 114-108, Portland.
1:17… Lillard misses, and LaMarcus somehow fights off three Cavs to draw a loose ball foul on Thompson, giving the Blazers their umteenth offensive rebound of the night. He makes 2-2 at the line… 116-108, Blazers.
1:04… Kyrie runs pick and roll on the left wing with Thompson. Joel Freeland, through some brain fart, doesn’t come out to chase Kyrie… Kyrie to Thompson, back to Kyrie on the left sideline. Lillard chases. Irving pump fakes. Lillard flies by. Kyrie has the presence of mind to dribble once to step behind the three point line and drains another three. 116-111, Blazers.
0:40… Andy grabs a one armed rebound off a Wes Matthews prayer. Shovels to Kyrie. Irving races. Top of the key: a slight hesitation freezes Lillard. Irving darts up the right lane, throws himself into a converging Aldridge. Hangs. Spins it in off the right corner of the square as the whistle blows. Kyrie drains the freebie. 116-114, Portland.
0:30… Aldridge, catches on the left block, takes two giant steps across the lane, like Kevin McHale back in the day, throws up a running right hander that hits the back of the rim. Freeland tips the rebound, and Gee steps in to grab it. Time out, Cavs.
0:16… Irving Catches the ball at the top of the key. 1-4 set. His Teammates are flattened out. Jab step. Crossover to the left side on Batum, down the lane. Freeland, Aldridge, and Batum converge. Irving just gets the ball away to Varejao, crashing from the right side. Andy, high off the glass, and the ball bounces in for two… Tie ball game!
So, why does Kyrie get the ball at the end of games? Because the man can generate 11 points in a minute and 40 seconds. Why is it even a question? Well, to answer that, let’s go back in time a little further.
15 (game) minutes earlier…
3:00 to go in the third… Kyrie has just subbed out. Waiters down the lane, no looks to Thompson who throws in a pretty left handed baby hook. 83-80, Portland
2:21… Shot clock winding down. Dion sees Delly alone in the right corner. Instead of passing, takes a hard dribble to the left, draws two defenders, and zips the pass to the corner. Delly rips twine as the shot clock expires. 83-83.
1:20… Waiters, dribbles to the left baseline, isolates on Batum, freezes him, swishes an 18 footer.
11:29 in the 4th.. Pick and roll with Andy. Dion pulls up for two more between the opposing guard and the big man.
11:03… Waiters, offensive rebound… Dion isolates on the right wing, hard dribble, sideways step to the right baseline… 18 footer again.
9:40… Post up on the left baseline against Mo Williams, turns to the mid-post. Williams over commits. Dion rotates through, and knuckles in a 10 footer that hits every part of the rim before falling. 92-97 Cavs.
7:45… Kyrie re-enters the game. In his absence, the Cavs have outscored Portland 21-16, and Dion has 8 of those points. Bynum has also been re-inserted. The Cavs don’t score again for almost two minutes when Dion makes a jumper. The offense is a mess. Kyrie is missing jumpers. Andrew Bynum is clearly frustrated at his inability to get the ball and travels out of a poorly conceived post-up.
4:16… Mike Brown mercifully removes Andrew Bynum from the game for A.V. 109-101, Blazers.
3:34… It takes another two minutes to score until Dion makes a 26 footer to cut the deficit to 109-104.
In case you’re counting. Dion, scored 15 points on 7-10 shooting in 12 minutes, before Kyrie’s last 94 second heroics. The Cavs have two guys that can score in bunches. It would be nice if there was some mystery as to who was taking last second shots for the Cavs, and who was getting the ball in crunch time. It would make the Cavs’ offense less predictable. Of course, it’s hard to argue with Kyrie’s heroics. The problem was that Cleveland’s offense stalled for five minutes in the middle of the fourth quarter. Portland ratcheted up theirs. It’s hard to say whether that is Kyrie or Bynum’s presence, but Irving certainly deserves some blame. As Tom said, when Kyrie comes in, “it takes the whole team six possessions before they get their bearings.”
I could keep rewinding this game, but the second half is really where the difference was made. There is a silver lining. This was as entertaining a game from start to finish, as the Cavs have played all year. The Cavs and Blazers both played hard throughout, and both teams displayed an unbelievably high skill level. Portland’s “big four” of Lillard, Batum, Matthews, and Aldridge are going to be formidable for years to come. Portland is one of the best teams in the NBA. There’s no shame in losing this game, and in many ways, we are nitpicking. In the end, the moments that went well for the Cavs numbered one fewer than the positive moments for the Blazers.
Cleveland didn’t just lose this game because of the events of the fourth quarter. Cleveland gave up 18 offensive rebounds, which led to 35 second chance points. That had a much bigger bearing on this game than any one possession. Tristan Thompson was pwned by Aldridge, who scored 26, and grabbed 15 (4 offensive) rebounds. The Cavs ‘ bigs almost always had one guy not boxing out, and it often seemed like T.T. or Bynum. Joel Freeland should never grab five offensive rebounds.
The Cavs, as good as they were at closing out shooters in Orlando, were incredibly undisciplined tonight. They sagged way too much, and consistently lost track of Lillard, Batum, and Matthews. Aldridge is going to get his points, but it is very hard to win if you give up 15 threes on 33 shots to anyone. I didn’t keep track of who was guarding Lillard, but that was probably because he was so open when he was shooting that I couldn’t tell. It often seemed to be Gee flying at him. Kyrie could learn a lesson on how to play with a post, move without the ball, and get offense without having to dribble from game film of Damian.
Jarrett Jack had a rough shooting night. I counted three missed layups, and they were pretty crucial. Gee was -12 for the game, and had the biggest defensive boner of the night. If Miles is healthy enough, he should be getting some of Gee’s minutes.
Only six turnovers… 47% shooting… 52.9% from three… 13 offensive rebounds… 48 points in the paint. Kyrie… 25 points, 10 dimes, zero turnovers. Dion… 25/5/1 in that department.
Matthew Dellavedova had 10 impactful minutes. The team’s energy lifts whenever he’s on the floor. Take the way he helped close out the 3rd quarter: he grabbed an offensive rebound off a free throw miss, and then played tough defense on an inbound that forced a Lillard back-court violation, in the space of 20 seconds. He’s just incredibly heady.
Andrew Bynum had a great first half, and finished the game with 13 points and 9 rebounds.
The Cavs offense with Andrew Bynum in the fourth quarter.
Robin Lopez’s Geico Caveman/Sideshow Mel hair.
Andy’s Scruff. He’s starting to look like circa 1977 Lindsey Buckingham. OK, maybe it’s beautifully ugly. I know he’ll keep it till bobble-head night.