Well, this game felt a bit better. After a week or so of non-competitive basketball games, the Cleveland Cavaliers showed up against a reeling Portland Trail Blazers and put together a complete, by their standards, basketball game. It wasn’t perfect — Darius Garland and Collin Sexton still have a long way to go, and too much of the Cavs offense was force-feeding Tristan Thompson in the post (?).
But the defensive intensity was leaps and bounds better than it has been, and Damian Lillard’s late charge wasn’t enough to withstand Jordan Clarkson’s offensive outburst.
Your Cleveland Cavaliers, 110. The Portland Trail Blazers, 104.
Positive: We probably need to start with Jordan Clarkson
This wasn’t a particularly good game for Darius Garland or Collin Sexton (they combined for 28 points on 26 shots, one assist, and five turnovers), but Jordan Clarkson couldn’t miss so it ended up being okay. Twenty-eight points on nine field goal attempts, three assists and zero turnovers isn’t a stat line we see from Clarkson very often, but credit where it’s due here. He was scoring from all three levels and taking care of the ball. In the fourth quarter he jumpstarted an offense that seemed content to slowly hemorrhage possessions into a loss. It’s just what the NBA is now, but if Clarkson could get to the rim and take threes more often, he might have this sort of value more often, even if he can’t be relied upon to shoot at this level.
Conversely, Cedi Osman couldn’t buy a shot, but he brought a bit of distribution that I think helped in some of these Clarkson minutes.
Positive: Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. helped control the boards
The Blazers started Anthony Tolliver and Carmelo Anthony up front, and that’s just not really enough physicality for what the Cavs can bring to the table. Cleveland overcompensated a bit — Thompson had seven shot attempts in the first six minutes of the game, but as the game progressed the Cavs were able to extend possessions with offensive rebounds and start putting Tristan in better positions. Nance and Thompson combined for 21 rebounds, six offensive. When you’re talking about a game decided by a couple possessions, that matters.
Even though it seemed like too much of the Cavs offense involved dump-offs to Thompson, he finished the game with an efficient 25 points on 17 shots. The Cavs offense might not be pretty any time soon, but tonight it was just effective enough.
Positive: It’s a cliche, but the Cavs just seemed to want this one more
Whether it was Kevin Love being animated on the bench, or the whole team greeting Clarkson after a buzzer beating three to end the 3rd quarter, it just seemed like the Cavs were more excited to be there and try and get the win. It took a long time for CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard to warm up to the game, and by the time they did it was too late. Obviously it’s irrelevant if Clarkson doesn’t hit a bunch of threes, but the Cavs locked down defensively in a way they hadn’t been able to in awhile.
The Blazers are a horror show right now, but it gives Cleveland something to build on.