After looking disjointed for much of their first three games to open the season, the Portland Trail Blazers finally found their rhythm against one of the top teams in the NBA.
The ball movement was crisper, the defense was sharper and, most importantly, the shots were falling in a 101-82 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night at Moda Center.
Portland shot 49 percent (37 of 75) from the field and rekindled the explosive offense that was a trademark of the team a season ago. And the much-maligned defense slowed down one of the most high-powered scoring teams in the league.
The Blazers' defensivee success started with bottling up Cleveland's stars. LeBron James was limited to 11 points on 4 of 10 shooting and Kyrie Irving finished with just 9 points and shot 3 of 17 from the floor. Kevin Love had the strongest showing of Cleveland's heralded "Big 3," finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Damian Lillard broke out of his three-game slump to start the season, leading Portland with 27 points, six rebounds and seven assists. He was assertive early, getting teammates involved and recording four assists in the opening quarter, and letting his offense come to him instead of forcing the action.
Lillard hit his first three and finished with three first-half threes, settling into an offensive rhythm that finally resembled the All-Star point guard on which the Blazers have come to depend.
Wesley Matthews added 21 points, taking turns abusing Cavaliers defenders in the post and dropping threes from the perimeter. Robin Lopez scored 19 points and took advantage of the Cavaliers' defense that was focused on slowing everyone else but him.
LaMarcus Aldridge didn't have his usual dominant offensive performance, but the rest of the Blazers starters shouldered the load.
The Blazers dominated the second half, pushing the lead to 18 at the 3:05 mark and forcing Cleveland coach David Blatt to concede the game and empty his bench.
Hot Start, Cold Finish
Cleveland hit its first 10 shots and shot a blistering 13 of 21 (61.9) in the first quarter, but went cold in the final three quarters. The Cavaliers scored 34 points in the opening 12 minutes, but only managed to score 48 the rest of the game. The Blazers defense limited the Cavaliers offense to 36.5 percent shooting for the game despite the red hot start.
Second half dominance
The Blazers opened the second half on 12-4 run and took control of the game in the third quarter. The lead swelled to 13 on an Aldridge layup that pushed the score to 67-54 at the 7:18 mark. Cleveland trimmed the lead to single digits with nine minutes to go in the fourth, but Portland put the game away with a 14-5 run that quelled the Cavs' comeback hopes.
Rotation questions answered
Terry Stotts hinted at the lineup changes against the Warriors on Sunday, but Monday solidified Will Barton's and Thomas Robinson's spots his nine-man rotation. Barton played 11:49 off the bench and finished with two points. Thomas Robinson provided a familiar spark as a reserve, grabbing eight rebounds and scoring two points in 10:35. After CJ McCollum and Joel Freeland filled the eighth and ninth spots in the first two games of the season, they may have lost their spots to Barton and Robinson.
The Trail Blazers have a home meeting with the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night at 7:30 at Moda Center.
By Mike Richman | oregonlive.com | November 4, 2014