With the Cavs coming off a long winning streak of one, and the Blazers suffering through an interminable losing streak of two, something was bound to break. Let’s get to it.
1st Quarter: The Cavaliers opened the contest with a starting lineup of Tristan Thompson, Cedi Osman, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks and Collin Sexton. As is their custom, the Cavs’ first play fed Rodney Hood the rock off of Pick and Roll action for a pull-up jumper. Nothing is more indicative of this Cavs season than that opening game philosophy. On the bright side, Rodney got a little deeper than usual, and drilled the first elbow J of the game.
Collin probably had his best open floor play of season when he pushed the ball in early offense, duped Damian Lillard with a sweet behind the back dribble, and finished a righted handed layup.
On the other end of the floor Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic used a strong Pick and Roll game to get Lillard easy looks.
Tristan sagged too deeply off the Pick and Roll leaving Cedi Osman to navigate a huge Nurkic screen all by his lonesome. As the shot left Dame’s hands, Thompson put his arms up in confusion.
I don’t know what he is confused about, but I am confused as to why he is sagging so deeply into the paint against a large center like Nurkic. Nurk has quick feet for such a big man, but there is no reason that Tristan should drop an extra step into the paint against Portland’s primary play.
Thompson is not a good enough rim-protector to warrant that kind of sag against any team, let alone one with the guard shooting of Portland.
Cedi picked up too early fouls in part because of Tristan, bringing Jordan Clarkson into the contest a touch early. Jordan immediately did Jordan mid-range basketball things, and one was left to wonder what his life would be like if he were to switch places with C.J. McCollum.
The Blazers would certainly be worse off for it. C.J. is the far better all-around player. Still, the Portland offensive system would suit Clarkson’s skill-set more than any place he’s been.
Shortly after Jordan checked-in, Jaron Blossomgame and Matthew Dellavedova entered the game for Rodney Hood and Collin Sexton.
A made Portland three forced coach Larry Drew to call the first timeout of the evening, trailing 21:17.
Cameron Payne and Ante Zizic replaced Alec Burks and Tristan out of the break. For Portland, Meyers Leonard checked in for Nurk.
Leonard vs Nurkic is in interesting example of how different body types present different overall advantages. Leonard is naturally skinny but has clearly been working very hard and his body over the last few seasons. He is positively ripped.
Nurkic is naturally a thicker guy. He has also been working very hard, having dropped much of his baby fat. He almost looks svelte in comparison to the now bulky Leonard.
That being said, Nurkic’s natural lower body strength and thick frame still make him the far stronger player of the two. Tristan is a strong man, but Nurkic has no problem moving him around with regularity.
Leonard, though visually strong, still is too frequently moved off his spots. Ante Zizic had a relatively easy time finishing through Leonard off good PnR action with Delly.
The Cavs’ paint scoring and Blossomgame’s defensive hustle contributed to a decent first quarter. At the end of one, the Cavs trailed by just four, 30-26.
2nd Quarter: Drew trotted out Delly, Clarkson, Payne, Blossomgame, and Zizic for the start of the period. A couple of strong buckets in the paint by Blossomgame and Delly knotted the score at 30 a piece.
The possession following a Portland three had me chuckling. With Portland overplaying Zizic’s post position in a mismatch, the middle of the floor was wide open for a weak-side flash. Delly could be heard screaming to Blossomgame “Flash, Flaaaaaasshh!!!!” before the young man finally got the unsubtle message. You and me both, Delly.
To Jaron’s credit, he heard the scream, eventually flashed to the middle, and connected on an “oopsie” bank shot for a Cavalier lead.
A Cameron Payne putback gave coach Terry Stotts a reason to stop the action. After the timeout, Portland drilled another three in what was becoming a theme.
With seven minutes left trailing 39-40, the starters trickled back into the game. Osman hit a pull-up jumper upon his return, but immediately picked up a foul battling for a defensive rebound.
Seth Curry led a 9-3 mini run for the Blazers. Collin Sexton had a hard time following guys over and under screens off ball. As usual it was more about his confusion than his physical capabilities.
Just when it looked like the Cavs were going to lose touch, Rodney Hood connected on three aggressive buckets for most of his 11 first half points.
The Blazers lit it up from outside in the first half connecting on 11 of 17 shots from behind the arc. Fortunately, the Cavs’ work in the paint help to limit the deficit. At halftime 61-55 Blazers.
3rd Quarter: The third quarter started with a hard drive to the hoop from Rodney Hood netting two free throws. It was good that Hood was aggressive throughout the beginning of the third quarter.
Without him the Cavs may have trailed by even more. Jake Layman, starting for the injured Maurice Harkless put on a little show in the first part of the quarter.
Layman scored out of the post, off of a closeout, and from three. The young man is bouncy, has good length, and sweet stroke. Layman looked great in the summer league and preseason. He has been playing well since Harkless has been out of the lineup. If he can continue this level of play, the Blazers could get interesting come May.
Some bad misses by Hood and Osman, combined with an increase in playing force from the Blazers lead to a 15 point deficit with 6:38 left in the quarter.
Al-Farouq Aminu’s trail position three in transition was the Blazers’ 14th made three out of 23 attempts, and gave them a 21 point lead. Jusuf Nurkic was playing well on the defensive end and passing like his ex-teammate Nikola Jokic on offense.
The Cavs defense, like it has been throughout the entire season, was undermined by Jordan Clarkson inability to guard any opposition screen action. On one lovely occasion, Clarkson randomly doubled Lillard, screened himself against Dellavedova’s body, and fell horribly out of a position leading to a McCollum lay up.
On a subsequent possession, Damian Lillard got an easy layup when Jordan Clarkson provided zero help on a right wing backscreen against Matthew Dellavedova. This can’t happen.
And yet it happens every game, on multiple possessions, because Jordan Clarkson is a horrible defender. A simple basketball fan would likely see Clarkson’s offensive contributions in the quarter and conclude that he was decent during that stretch. He wasn’t. He was decidedly not decent.
Ante Zizic did play well, however, getting to the line and protecting the rim when given the opportunity. Between his and Delly’s play, Cleveland was able to stay within Delly’s sizable screaming distance at 100-85.
Fourth Quarter: The final frame did not begin with any real optimism as Evan Turner abused Matthew Dellavedova in the post. Delly couldn’t get it back on the offensive end missing a couple decent looks.
Cameron Payne did his best to give the Wine and Gold a slim glimmer of hope. Payne drilled a right-wing bomb that was sadly followed by Zach Collins’s third three of the game. Payne came back to drill a left-wing three with Collins hugging his left side, and followed that with great change of pace drive and feed for a Zizic And-one.
That strange line up of Sexton, Clarkson, Payne, Blossomgame, and Zizic cut the lead to ten when Payne smoothly dropped in a high teardrop with 5:54 remaining to make it 112-102.
That was the last good Cavalier action of the evening. From there, Nurkic and the Blazers responded with a 10-0 run with Nurkic dominating in all facets. Jusuf wracked up a quick four assists as he and his teammates were clearly hunting for his triple-double.
Zizic could have done a better job providing ball pressure during the span, but the game essentially ended after the Blazers pushed the lead to 20.
Nurk’s 10th assist gave him the first triple-double for the Blazers since Nic Batum had one in 2014. It was a clean, Jason Kidd-esque line of 10 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and a less Kiddian five blocks, for the Bosnian mountain. At least the Cavs didn’t allow him any steals.
The Cavs lost a game in which they only turned the ball over three times, matched the opposition’s rebound total, and shot a respectable 47% from the field. They lost by 17 points.
Why? Well, same answer as always. The other team used and abused the Cavs from deep. The Blazers made 16 of 29 from deep, while the Cavs only hit on 6-19.
Part of that is because the Cavs continue to ICE the PnR with personelle that shouldn’t ICE, aka Tristan Thompson. What is the point of Tristan on the defensive end if he sags all the way near the bucket on PnR defense. Even Zizic, who theoretically has slower feet, understood that he can’t leave his guards completely out to dry on the perimeter unless he his able to truly protect the rim. Tristan was as terrible as his minus-20 would indicate.
Equally terrible was Cedi Osman. I love me some Cedi, but this is getting ridiculous. He is so completely in his head right now that the only shots he makes with regularity are ones where he is on the move. I don’t know what the solution is, but Cedi should be better.
Cameron Payne showed the league that he is better than Patrick McCaw. So, there’s that. I like his pace on offense. He does a decent job of starting and stopping, “Nashing” and generally looking to free up space for teammates or himself. I don’t trust his three ball, but he is playing well enough to be on an NBA roster. Good for him.
The Blazers are close to being much better. If Jake Layman and Zach Collins can continue to develop, their roster starts to make a lot of sense. They have struggled to find shooting from the wing for years. Collins needs to cut the fouling. Layman needs to simply be more consistent. I like both players.