Sloppy 3rd quarter undoes Blazers lead in loss to Cavaliers 105-100
The Portland Trail Blazers fell to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night 105-100, blowing an 18-point lead in the process. James had 33 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists and 2 steals. Damian Lillard had 33 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists and CJ McCollum had 24 points and 5 assists. Portland’s backcourt didn’t have enough help tonight to finish the job and the Blazers’ best efforts couldn’t stop the inevitability of LeBron.
What did the Blazers in tonight, besides LeBron of course, was a sloppy third quarter. The third quarter has usually been a plus for the Blazers, being one of the better third quarter teams in the NBA. But whether it was LeBron, the second night of a back-to-back, or the adjustment from Cleveland to go small, the Blazers just didn’t have it after the intermission.
Cavaliers coach David Blatt made an adjustment to go small in the second quarter and at the start of the second half, inserting former Oregon State star Jared Cunningham in for Timofey Mozgov, leaving Kevin Love in as the “center,” though LeBron truly acted as the team’s defensive anchor.
The switch worked as the Cavaliers got a little bit more pressure on Portland’s ball handlers and it forced the Blazers into some bad turnovers. The Blazers had 9 turnovers in the third quarter, which made Cleveland’s eventual rally much more effective. The Cavaliers were going to keep scoring, but the Blazers gave them a lot of easy opportunities to cut into the lead with empty possessions. Stotts answered with a small line-up of his own after Mason Plumlee picked up his fourth foul, but it couldn’t swing the tide.
It was almost predictable after the way the Blazers started this game. After a rough shooting night against Milwaukee, Porltand started Tuesday’s game in Cleveland red-hot. Lillard and McCollum, who struggled against the Bucks came out firing the Blazers take a 17-6 lead in the first quarter. Lillard and McCollum started making shots, but the Cavaliers defense was letting them run free early on.
But then Lillard continued to take over, launching from deep as either J.R. Smith or Matthew Dellavedova had trouble covering him away from the basket. The Cavs had their moments after the Blazers hot start, but the Blazers kept them at bay for much of the first half, even extending their lead to has high as 18 in the second quarter.
After a down night against Milwaukee, Portland’s bench bounced against Cleveland’s. Meyers Leonard continued to present problems to opposing teams’ second units. He hit on another post-up from the foul line after Tristan Thompson closed out on him around the 3-point line. That was always the question with Leonard this season. What can he do once teams take away his outside shot? If he can keep using these types of counters to the counters with consistency, his skills become even more valuable. Allen Crabbe was cash again off the bench, ditto for Ed Davis.
The Cavs got their first lead midway through the third quarter and kept the roll going. They shut down Portland’s backcourt and the Blazers’ supporting cast didn’t do enough to take the pressure off their guard tandem, who played well, but not well enough to hold off the Cavs onslaught.
LeBron’s heroics and Portland’s ineptitude on the offensive end were too much for the Blazers to overcome. The Cleveland lead got to as high as 11 in the fourth quarter. The Blazers had their chances, including when a flagrant foul from Dellavedova led to a 4-point possession, which got the Blazers to within 3 points with 3:22 left.
But LeBron answered on the very next possession with a deep pull-up three to put the Cavs up six and after a couple of empty possessions, Delly made another to put the Cavs up nine. Things got weird at the end with some odd turnovers for Cleveland keeping the door open for a Blazers miracle, which obviously didn’t happen.
Going up against a rested LeBron was a tall order to begin with. But the Blazers, who were very upset publicly with the way they lost on Monday, will no doubt be disappointed by losing another big lead and another close loss.
- When Allen Crabbe rolls out of bed, he scores in double-figures. At this point, it’s going to be a story when Crabbe isn’t scoring off the bench. Crabbe scored in double-figures for the 4th consecutive game off the Blazers bench with 14 points on 6-11 shooting. Crabbe is a restricted free-agent at the end of the year, so if he keeps this up he’ll set himself up for a nice pay day from Portland or elsewhere. Cha-ching.
- LeBron at power forward is a tough match-up for anyone and something he usually only does in the playoffs. After Meyers Leonard got going early, LeBron checked him and basically erased Leonard pick-and-rolls from the playbook. Portland’s offense shot well, but the 18-8 turnover difference was too much for even a solid night of 3-point shooting to overcome.
- Portland’s bigs did an okay job but didn’t take enough of an advantage of the Cavaliers small line-ups. Mason Plumlee fouled out in this game with 2:38 left. Ed Davis came in for the final stretch. Portland did some of the things you would want against a team going small, like beating the Cavaliers on the glass 36-30. They were able to hide Kevin Love on Portland’s centers, who are not real threats to create their own shot, so kudos to Blatt for the change.
- We didn’t see Gerald Henderson for the first time since he came back to the Blazers on Nov. 12. Stotts went to Tim Frazier at the start of the 4th quarter to help take some of the ball-handling duties after the Blazers turnover-filled 3rd quarter. Moe Harkless also played 20 minutes, who has a little bit more size to bother LeBron.
- The Blazers are off for the next few days before another back-to-back. They play the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix on Friday before they fly back to Portland to take on Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzinigis and the New York Knicks on Saturday.