The Portland Trail Blazers returned to the court for the first time in four days Wednesday night and responded with a 108-96 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers in front of a sellout crowd of 19,998 at the Moda Center.
“I was very please with our defense, for the most part throughout the game but particularly in the fourth quarter,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a nice job of protecting the rim and forcing mid-range shots.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers are now 29-9 on the season and sit behind only the San Antonio Spurs, their next opponent, in the Western Conference standings. They are now 7-0 against teams from the Central Division.
Wednesday’s game had all the makings of yet another photo finish, which wouldn’t have been surprising considering two of the last three games between the Blazers and Cavaliers were decided by last-second shots, one of those in overtime. Cleveland led 94-93 after a Dion Waiters netted a three-pointer with 3:44 to play in the fourth quarter.
But it would be all Trail Blazers from there after LaMarcus Aldridge hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired to put Portland up 96-94 with 3:17 to play. Even though it was Aldridge’s first three-pointer of the season, he said after that game that he had been practicing shooting from deep after shootaround.
“Clock was running down, I saw where I was,” said Aldridge. “I figured, I’ve been working on (three-pointers) all day this morning, so might as well shoot it. It went in. That’s rare for me, but I made it, so that was good for us.”
Aldridge’s three-pointer also served as a lesson to his younger teammates that just because you don’t take a lot of three-pointers doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t practice shooting them.
“That was a big-time shot,” said Damian Lillard. “He had a hand in his face, he doesn’t really shoot threes. In shootaround today I told him to stop shooting threes because he never shoots them in a game and he just happened to make that one.”
After Aldridge’s triple, Anderson Varejao answered back with an offensive rebound and a putback on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 96-96, but the Trail Blazers would hold the Cavaliers scoreless for the remaining two minutes, 54 seconds of regulation.
“I thought everybody took an individual challenge,” said Stotts of his team’s defense late in the fourth quarter. “On their pick and rolls, our bigs were good at containing the ball and not giving them an alley to the basket. With the one-on-one defense, our stances were good and taking away angles to drive. The help defense was there. So I just think it was a combination of good individual defense and good, especially, pick and roll defense.”
On the flip side, the Trail Blazers found their flow on offense in the fourth, finishing the final quarter by shooting 57 percent from the field and 56 percent from three. Portland would end the game on a 12-0 run thanks to six-straight points from Aldridge and three-pointers from Lillard and Wesley Matthews.
“We’re a high-potent, offensive team,” said Matthews. “Eventually our shots are going to fall. We’ve got guys that make too many good plays and guys that can knock down shots too well to not make shots for a full game.”
Playing a nip-and-tuck game for the first three quarters before pulling away in the fourth has been a recent trend for the Trail Blazers, and that was no different Wednesday night against the Cavaliers.
“I think a lot of good team are able to (extend leads) in the fourth quarter,” said Stotts, “and I think we’re a good team. We want to be able to be in position to win games in the fourth quarter, whether we explode or whether we win a nail-biter. I think we have the confidence and resolve and determination to find a way to win in the fourth quarter.”
Aldridge led all scorers with 32 points on 12 of 26 shooting to go along with 18 rebounds, four assists and a steal in 35 minutes. The Blazers are now 19-3 this season when Aldridge records a double-double.
Damian Lillard got the best of Kyrie Irving in the matchup of up-and-coming point guards, finishing with 28 points, six rebounds, 5 assists and two steals in 36 minutes. Lillard scored 20 of his points in the first half.
Matthews scored five points in the fourth quarter
to finish with 15 points, four assists, a rebound and a steal. Nicolas Batum scored just seven points on five shots but also added nine rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes.
Mo Williams struggled through a three of 11 night from the field but finished with eight points and a game-high seven assists. And Thomas Robinson turned in another energetic performance off the bench with four points, six rebounds and a block in just under 13 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers begin an incredibly difficult four games in five nights stretch on the road with a contest Friday night against the Spurs in San Antonio.
“Challenging,” said Stotts when asked to describe the upcoming trip, with also includes games against the Mavericks, Rockets and Thunder. “It’s four teams that are in the playoffs. I’m always reluctant to talk about a whole road trip. Right now, it’s about San Antonio and they’ve won six in a row and have the best record in the NBA, or close to it. So the road trip is challenging, but like anything else, you can’t look at the whole thing. If you’re going to read a 2,000-page book, you can’t look at the whole book. You’ve got to take the first chapter.”
Tipoff for that first chapter is set for 5:30 PM.