There was a point in Saturday’s crazy double overtime win in Cleveland, in the middle of the third quarter, when a run of scoring from Damian Lillard gave Portland a six-point lead and it looked like the Cavaliers were going to fade in the back stretch, and I started to get a little upset. Sure a stretch of good ball movement and high percentage shots wasn’t going to be enough to beat the Celtics or the Nets, but if it was enough to knock down the Cleveland Cavaliers it would have probably been enough to take care of business against the Pistons or the Wizards.
There was a point in Saturday’s game, at the end of the fourth quarter, when for like the fifteenth time in regulation one of Cleveland’s guards split Portland’s double team at the top of their two three zone, cut hard to the rim only to be stopped by a Blazer big, and still managed to slip off a quick pass to the weak-side cutter for an uncontested dunk, and I started to get upset again but this time for a different reason. The sequence in question came with 53 seconds to play, and it was an uncontested two-hand slam by Tristan Thompson to put the Cavaliers up by two.
There was a point in Saturday’s game, right at the end of the first overtime, when a missed Cleveland shot turned into an offensive rebound, a second possession, and a game-tying field goal, and I started to freak out just a little bit. All night the Blazers have been giving up offensive rebounds and second possessions to the Cavs. And here, just when it looked like they were going to get the stop they needed to finally put the game away, Portland had blown it by not finishing a defensive play with a defensive rebound. I just knew the Blazers were going to get smacked in the second overtime.
There was a point in Saturday’s game, at the end of the second overtime, when J.J. Hickson had the ball under the hoop with time running out and nowhere to go and nothing to do, and I almost lost it. We’d been here before, the ball in J.J.’s hands with almost no time left and needing a bucket to win, and it hadn’t gone well. We were looking at a five-game losing streak, another disappointing loss to a team with a bad record. It was all over.
There was a point in Saturday’s game, after the final horn, when I was standing in front of my television shouting, and wondering how exactly the Blazers had literally snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
I don’t care that it took two extra periods. I don’t care that the Cavaliers are without their best player and are a lottery team. I don’t care if Damian Lillard managed to turn the ball over not once but twice in two crucial overtime possessions. I don’t care if again Portland’s late game execution, especially on possessions to tie or go ahead with less than a minute to play, left a whole lot to be desired. Portland needed a win. They needed a win in the worst way possible. They got a win. That’s all that matters.
Here’s the thing about Saturday night, though, Nicolas Batum’s last-second game winner with two-tenths of a second on the clock will overshadow what could have been a real game-changer of a night for Portland. For the first time this season the Blazers got a little balance on the scoring sheet.
Sure Portland’s starting five did the heavy lifting on offense (Lillard 24 points, Batum 22, Aldridge 21, Hickson 11, Matthews 11), but Joel Freeland pitched in eight points, Will Barton added seven points, and a kind of resurrected Nolan Smith contributed six points. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but those are meaningful numbers for Portland’s bench.
But more than just scoring, everyone on the Blazers’ bench except Jared Jeffries logged at least 12 minutes. That’s an important milestone for this team. If Joel Freeland and Will Barton can contribute regular minutes without Portland getting way behind, this team could have a chance at competing on a nightly basis. Eight points from Joel Freeland, though a serious improvement over what we’ve seen from him so far this season, won’t win the Blazers many games this season, it does point to a potentially brighter future.
What won’t be soon forgotten Saturday, and should be a very valuable take-away for this Blazer team, is that Portland didn’t give up. They didn’t play great, apart from a few stretches in the middle of the second half that helped to establish the Blazers on both ends of the floor, but Portland didn’t let this one go away even when it looked like they were going to.
Whenever things get bad for the Blazers in the future, they should go back to game tape from Saturday. While going over said game tape, they should just skip ahead to the final nine seconds of the second overtime. In those nine seconds they will see a bad shot by LaMarcus Aldridge, an out of position offensive rebound and lousy shot from J.J. Hickson, a defensive rebound by Anderson Varejao, a pass off to Alonzo Gee, and a foul by Nicolas Batum.
It’s that foul by Batum that’s important. Gee got the ball with two seconds left. The Cavs were up a point, this was the end of a second extra five-minute period, it’s a long road trip with two games left to play, Portland could be excused for not fouling. I’m sure they would have been excoriated in the media for not fouling, but they could have been excused for throwing in the towel. They’d fought hard, and in the midst of a bad losing streak, actually showing up is almost good enough. If Nicolas Batum hadn’t sent Alonzo Gee to the line with two seconds left in what would been the final OT session, Portland doesn’t win. By not giving up, the Blazers willed themselves to a win. That’s good for something.
Portland has a day off before flying to Charlotte to take on the Bobcats. Two more games before this thing is over. Two wins (which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility but doesn’t seem that likely) and this could actually end up a 3-4 trip.
Couple of quick things:
- Cleveland showcased a couple of rookies to take on Portland’s lottery picks. The Cavs first-years, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, represented themselves well. Waiters scored 12 points in 31 minutes and had a major impact late in the game. Zeller, on the other hand, was just short of amazing. He scored 14 points, grabbed a key offensive rebound, and finished with a +10. Almost all of Zeller’s damage was done in the second overtime period. In the final five minutes the rookie center accounted for eight of Cleveland’s 14 points. The cross comparisons for Cleveland’s rookies are of course Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard. Leonard had a rough night, scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds in 20 minutes, but his one made field goal came on a pretty nice lob dunk. Of the four rookies, Lillard was clearly the star. Damian shot 9-of-17 from the field and 4-of-7 from three for a game-high 24 points, handed out 11 assists to complete the double-double, and snagged six rebounds. He turned the ball over six times, and missed a chance to win the game at the end of regulation and again at the end of the first overtime. Dame made up for it though with a game-winning assist. I know I’m biased, but Damian Lillard doesn’t play like other rookies in the league.
- Prior to tip there was some speculation as to who would get more rebounds, Anderson Varejao or J.J. Hickson. Andy finished with more offensive rebounds (eight) than total rebounds for J.J. (five). Varejao’s 17 total rebounds were one less than the combined rebound total of LaMarcus Aldridge, Hickson, Meyers Leonard, and Joel Freeland.
- Luke Babbitt played 13 minutes, scored four points, and missed all four of his three-point field goal attempts. I’m suggesting a moratorium on mentions of how many times Babbitt hits 25-straight threes in practice until he can knock down a couple of open looks in an actual game.
- The Blazers are 3-0 in overtime games.