I think most of us rational fans anticipated some bumps in the road in the early part of this season. Opening night was an outlier, a once-in-a-lifetime atmosphere that could have short-circuited anyone. But, there’s no other way to describe the second half tonight other than the Blazers steamrolling the Cavaliers, particularly in the fourth quarter. Portland asked “one lump or two?”, and the Cavaliers ended up with a pair of matching knots on their skull. The Cavaliers fell to 1-2 as they looked completely out of sorts in Portland on both ends of the floor after a strong start to the evening. Let’s dive in and try to figure out what went wrong and when.
Cleveland Cavaliers 82
Portland Blazers 101
10-for-10, 21-for-75: The Cavaliers actually made their first ten shots of this game in a span of over seven minutes. They moved the ball well, and LeBron James highlighted it with a pair of threes, including one from Eugene. The score was 34-31 Cavaliers after one quarter of ABA All-Star game style. Then, the game’s scoring was thrown into a screeching halt. The Cavs didn’t score more than 19 points in any of the final three quarters and managed just 13 in the fourth. Shooting only 37% as a team, there was plenty of blame to spread.
6-of-28: The Cleveland starting backcourt of Irving and Waiters combined to shoot just 21%. The ball stuck with Irving for far too much, and he took a lot of bad shots up against the shot clock. Some of that was due to a lack of movement from his teammates, and some of that was bad Kyrie habits of old. Kyrie was phenomenal in the first two, and he’s going to have off shooting nights from time to time. He did have 5 assists, but those all came in the first half. This team has enough offense and shooting now that Kyrie shouldn’t feel obligated to just keep chucking if he’s on an off night. As for Waiters, he has not found his way as of yet through three games. Tonight, thanks to Stats.NBA.com’s player tracking, we know that Dion was within 3.5 feet of a defensive rebound just ONCE and made only 5 passes in 27 minutes tonight. That’s frightening.
Through three outings, Dion has just 25 points, 3 assists (0 tonight), 7 turnovers, and has shot 10-of-30 with only four free throw attempts. Many felt Waiters would have the most difficult time adjusting to the new Cavalier world, and there’s been nothing to refute that notion as of yet. It’s going to continue to take work from Dion with regards to moving without the ball, taking the right shots, and avoiding the poor ones.
25: The wine and gold did get 25 bench points tonight, their most of the season. The rotation was a solid nine with four bench players receiving at least 11 minutes. We got our first Mike Miller bucket, and Shawn Marion added 7 points, but it still feels very disjointed when getting away from the first seven guys (Tristan and Delly included with the starting five).
27: Damian Lillard points. The young point guard was off to a slow start, but he brought it in a big way tonight. His statline was a thing of beauty: 6-of-13 shooting, 5-of-10 from three, 10-of-10 from the line, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and zero turnovers. Lillard torched Irving head-up, and whoever was responsible for guarding him throughout the game gave him far too much airspace around the three-point line. Lillard is a treat to watch, and he has put up some incredible performances in his short career against the Cavs.
0: LeBron James did not score in the second half, and he only shot the ball four times. More alarming was how disinterested he seemed as the game slipped away from them. We’ve yet to see the explosive James for more than a burst or two. If you would’ve told me that James would be held under 20 points for two out of the first three games, I would’ve been stunned. LeBron specifically called out the bad habits of the last few years, which points the finger squarely at Irving, Waiters, Varejao, and Thompson. He’s not wrong, but the Cavaliers aren’t going anywhere with a sub-20-point LeBron that lacks explosion and takeover desire. Again, I’m fully confident that LeBron will assume that role as soon as tomorrow night, but until he does, the Cavs are going to lose games.
15-of-26: The Portland frontcourt really won this game for the Blazers, and their shooting was great. Robin Lopez seemed to have everything fall for him on this night, firing at a 8-of-11 clip for 19 points to go with 6 rebounds and 3 steals in 29 minutes. Lamarcus Aldridge, somebody who I consider virtually unguardable because of his ability to shoot anywhere inside the arc while also being able to back his opponent down in the post, added 16 points. They helped Portland outrebound the Cavs 48-41 too. I really like Portland out West to put up a fine regular season record near the top of the conference.
0: The number of Big Threevaliers on the court to start the second and fourth quarters. Coach David Blatt opted for a lineup of Dellavedova, Miller, Marion, Thompson, and Varejao to start the second, and only adjusted it by adding Dion to start the fourth. There’s really no reason that Blatt can’t adjust the minutes of Love, James, and Irving such that at least one of them is out there for all 48 minutes. Who is the focal point on offense without those three? Well, it’s Dion and a bunch of other guys that are more finishers and spot-up guys than creators or ball-handlers.
Will it get better? Yes, it will, but how soon? Our next shot at a calming entry into the season journal comes Wednesday night in Utah against a team the Cavs should beat, even in their less than perfect state.