Blazers Run Out Of Gas To End Trip In Cleveland
CLEVELAND -- The Trail Blazers gave the Cavaliers everything they could handle, and then some, in the first three quarters of Tuesday night’s game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Buoyed by the return of Damian Lillard, Portland led by as many as 10 points in the first half and managed to make up an eight-point deficit in the third to go into the last quarter of a three-game road trip trailing by just four to the reigning Eastern Conference champions.
But playing their third game in four nights and the second game of a back-to-back after going to overtime the night before in Chicago caught up to the Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter, as the Cavaliers pulled away late to hand Portland a 127-110 loss.
"I was pleased with our effort and obviously it was a close game going into the fourth quarter," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "Just got away from us. Obviously their bench was the difference, their bench was outstanding. Wade, Isaiah Thomas, you look at the plus/minus, you look at their scoring, they really made a difference."
With the loss the Trail Blazers drop to 19-18 overall and 11-8 on the road this season. Portland finishes out the three-game Eastern Conference road swing with a 1-2 record.
After shooting 49 percent from the field and 42 percent from three in the first three quarter, the Trail Blazers shot just 8-of-21 in the fourth, with many of those shots coming up short, both literally and figuratively, in the fourth quarter.
"I thought we played a really solid game up until the last eight minutes of the game, I guess," said Lillard. "But when you're playing against a championship-caliber team and you don't stay sharp, those kind of things can happen. So I think it's a lesson learned for us but we should be encouraged by the style that we played."
Unfortunately for the Blazers, the Cavaliers, a team hadn’t played since December 30, would have no such dip in their offensive production in the fourth. Cleveland's reserved, a unit that outscored their counterparts 63-23, would help the home team go on a 19-3 run early in the fourth quarter to turn what was a tie game into a runway that also ended a three-game losing streak.
"We moved the ball really well, I thought we competed hard, we played smart," said Lillard. "But when you get tired and the game gets down the stretch, you've got to be able to sustain that and I thought they did a better job of it than us."
Damian Lillard, after missing the last five games with a right hamstring strain, led all scorers with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 6-of-9 shooting from three to go with six assists and a steal in 33 minutes.
Jusuf Nurkić had one of his better offensive games of the season, taking advantage of Cleveland's lack of size in the middle to go for 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals in 28 minutes.
CJ McCollum, who played 44 minutes in Monday night's win in Chicago, scored eight points in the first quarter before finishing with 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting, five rebounds and four assists in 36 minutes.
Evan Turner, who played well throughout the three-game trip, shot 50 percent from the field to finish with 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists before fouling out in 33 minutes.
The Cavaliers were led by LeBron James, who went 10-of-17 for 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 34 minutes. Isiaih Thomas went for 17 points and three assists in his debut with the Cavaliers.
LILLARD TIME RETURNS TO THE LINEUP
After missing the last five games with a strained right hamstring, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard resumed his rightful place in Portland’s starting lineup Tuesday night in Cleveland. While they comported themselves well enough to win three of the five games the 6-3 guard out of Weber State missed, there’s no substitute for the 25.2 points, 6.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds Lillard brings to the table.
“I’m just happy to be back,” said Lillard prior to Tuesday’s game. “It’s been a few games, I think we went 3-2. I missed games at a good time in our schedule where I felt like we had winnable games so it made me more comfortable sitting and really taking my time. I’m happy to be back, I’m not one to miss games. I like to be out there playing, so I’m happy I get to do that. And it’s in a good game against one of the best teams in the league.”
As he expected, it took Lillard some time to get his legs under him, not surprising for someone who hasn’t played in almost two weeks. But he also noted he didn’t think he’d be limited either in terms of minutes or performance.
“Obviously it’ll take some time to kind of warm up to the game and getting pasted being winded and all that stuff from not playing,” said Lillard. “But as far as my body function and being able to move, I think I will be able to.”
Lillard would prove himself right, finishing with a game-high 25 points on better than 50 percent shooting, though he also committed seven of Portland's 15 turnovers in the loss.
"I felt pretty good, my conditioning was good," said Lillard. "My timing was a little bit off and some of my passes, I gave away seven possessions for the team tonight. But everything else, I felt pretty good. I think sitting out I was sharper recognizing things in my play calling. I was really aware of what they were doing."
"It was just the way the game was going, how we was getting with them. It was almost like 'This is what we do.' We was hanging in there with them, we had the lead, we controlled the game. They had to come get it. LeBron, in my opinion, the best player in the world and when you've got him going downhill and making plays, doing all those things, it's hard to stop. He has the weapons, he has shooters around him, they got athletic guys. He uses all those things very well. I thought we showed very well tonight even though it was a loss. I thought what we did tonight is going in the right direction. If we played this way against pretty much any other team in the league, it's probably a W." -- Damian Lillard
With their three-game trip now complete, the Trail Blazers head home for two days off before hosting the Atlanta Hawks Friday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.