The Cavaliers have got to be running out of ways to lose close games. Last night, a missed free throw and a blown coverage were enough to give Nicolas Batum a fadeaway corner three point shot. Batum delivered, and the Blazers escaped Cleveland with a 1-point victory in a back-and-forth battle. The outcome wasted the efforts of Anderson Varejao, Alonzo Gee, and Tyler Zeller among other key bench contributions. The Cavs fell 118-117 in double OT despite eight double digit scorers, 32 assists, and 33 second chance points. There’s plenty to dive into surrounding this game, so let’s give it a whirl.
Had this game ended in a regulation Cavaliers win, the headline would’ve been the Cavaliers’ bench contributions. No longer a sad punchline for the Cavalier fan Twitterati, the Cavaliers bench has been producing the last few games. Since the return of Tyler Zeller and Daniel Gibson from injury, the team has seen a decrease in the dip of production that was so frustratingly reliable. The Cav bench poured in 41 points, outscoring Portland’s by 12. A lot of it is just flatout better play. Omri Casspi’s hitting threes at a 50% clip, Gibson continues to hit threes and provide a little bit of everything at both ends, and Zeller is really coming into his own. Still, some of it is a change in rotations by Byron Scott, who has now went to playing two point guards and allowing Jeremy Pargo to run with the second unit in the last couple games. Donald Sloan has made that possible, as he scored 10 points and dished out 3 assists in 16 minutes. It’s a little modification on my request to play Kyrie Irving or Dion Waiters with the second unit earlier in the year, but the principles remain the same. Pargo gives that second unit someone who can create for himself and others with his dribble drives.
At the end of regulation, Dion Waiters dished to Tristan Thompson for a slam to give the Cavs a two-point lead with 54 seconds remaining. The next defensive possession, the Cavs forced a Wesley Matthews miss, but Lamarcus Aldridge got the rebound, put it back up, got fouled, and Tristan Thompson swatted the ball away for a goaltend. Never mind that Ed Malloy’s crew missed a goaltend call that would’ve given Dion Waiters two more points at the halftime buzzer, or that Malloy called the goaltend from behind the basket. They reviewed the play and upheld the call on the court, and the Blazers had tied it. Truly, it was a boneheaded play by Thompson to try that swat at that moment, but I don’t agree with the call at all. Aldridge would miss the free throw, and the Cavaliers rebounded with 37 seconds to go. This is where I get irritated with Coach Scott’s style. He neglected to call a timeout, which resulted in a disjointed possession where no one but Anderson Varejao knew how much time was on the shot clock. J.J. Hickson blocked his shot, and the Blazers had the last chance. The defense held, however, as Damian Lillard’s running layup went awry at the buzzer. Good defense by Pargo to get him running on an angle away from the basket.
In the first overtime, the two rookies Dion Waiters and Damian Lillard traded five points in the session with Lillard working on what would end up being a 24 point, 6 rebound, 11 assist night as he got hot late, scoring all but 2 of those points from the second half on. Waiters had a horrific shooting night, but he dialed up some big shots, scoring those five on two straight possessions halfway through the first OT. Aldridge dunked one for Portland to give them a 2-point lead with 26 seconds remaining, and Scott did call a timeout this time. Dion Waiters took the 20-foot shot from the left wing, misfiring on a long jumper. In the rebounding scurry, Tyler Zeller grabbed it and directed it to Alonzo Gee, who strolled through the lane off-balanced and banked it home to tie the game. The Cavaliers then had to survive another defensive sequence with Lillard misfiring on a well-contested three, again with Pargo helping to make the stop. Disaster was narrowly avoided as Nicolas Batum grabbed the offensive rebound with Omri Casspi failing to get a body on him. Batum threw it up, making the shot. The shot was counted initially but waved off on review, another call that was obvious to at least my naked eye that these officials missed on the court. It was, however, a preview into the hero of this game.
In double OT, Tyler Zeller was the man, scoring 8 points and collecting his first career double-double, finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Zeller had a couple of putbacks and is getting pretty solid with that long corner jumper. Tyler’s 20-footer with just under a minute remaining should’ve proved to be the game winner, as it gave the Cavs a 116-115 lead. On the next possession, it was Tyler Zeller who forced Lillard to take a long route around him and lose the ball on the right sideline with 36 seconds left. On the next offensive sequence, the ball got worked to Zeller on the left side short corner. As Zeller went to the bucket, he took quite a bump from J.J. Hickson. No foul was called, and on top of that, when Zeller regained possession, a traveling violation was whistled. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when a foul should’ve been called and then the official has the stones to call the travel when possession was in doubt.
Zeller delivered again though as Aldridge’s long contested jumper misfired, J.J. Hickson grabbed the offensive board, and Zeller swatted it away to Anderson Varejao. The ball got to Alonzo Gee who threw the ball to the left side of the court as the Blazers scrambled to foul. The clock was stopped with 2.5 seconds remaining, even though the ball had left Gee’s hands for a good long while. The clock should have either expired or it should’ve been an intentional foul, two shots and the ball, for the Cavaliers. Instead, Gee went to the line where he left the first attempt short and made the second. That was all the opening Portland needed.
The Blazers inbounded to the right corner after Alonzo Gee lost Batum on a miscommunication and an Aldridge screen for only a split second. Gee closed, but the long and lanky Batum fell away and buried the three ball for the win with just 0.2 remaining. Anderson Varejao deperation heave may or may not have counted as he did appear to catch and shoot. This was just terrible officiating from Ed Malloy Leon Wood, and Mark Lindsay. If I were Dan Gilbert and Byron Scott, a tape of this game would be going to the league. But that’s just me, I’m a sucker for accountability in one’s job. There is none for NBA referees.
Most importantly in this one, however, was that Dion Waiters took a spill late in the second overtime. He appeared to turn his left ankle in tight quarters with Tyler Zeller. He went to the floor writhing in pain, but the team has ruled it a sprain after X-rays taken immediately after the game were negative. It’s scary any time a player gets caught on the ground underneath the bucket as the play included two players (Zeller and Varejao) spilling over him for offensive putbacks. Waiters was just 4-for-17 on the night for 12 points, but he did have 5 rebounds and 7 assists, hitting a couple big shots late.
Batum finished with 22 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter and overtime sessions. It was comical early in the game as he missed five shots from close range that included a couple dunks as well. Then, he caught fire late, and the joke was on the Cavaliers. Portland got double-doubles from both Lillard and Wesley Matthews, while all five of their starters hit double digit scoring as well.
The Cavs can’t feel real good about this one, having it nearly won a few times, getting a few tough breaks from officials, and failing to execute down the stretch. But, they got some great contributions from their bench. They also had several big defensive stops in the three end-game scenarios in the fourth quarter and overtimes. It’s a game to build on, and if it’s any comfort, when Kyrie Irving’s back, these are the games where I think our closer finishes things off.
(Photo: Tony Dejak/AP)