Well that was moderately encouraging. Following two straight Western Conference losses against Memphis and Houston, the Cavaliers actually had a pulse last night against the visiting Portland Trailblazers. Led by a flu-ridden Anderson Varejao who finished with the most points in a double-double in his entire career (22 pts, 10 rebs), the Cavs held on to beat the ailing Blazers 104-99. It was not a pretty first half yet again, but just like in the past LeBron and company find a gutsy way to pull it off down the stretch.
The first quarter was back-and-forth with the Cavaliers holding on against only the nine players that represented Portland last night. A handful of long jumpers including six points by Mo Williams gave the home crowd an early lead but you could sense the momentum slipping away by the end of the quarter. Up by just three, things were starting to fall apart just like they had been all week for Cleveland.
Juwan Howard flipped a switch back to
2005 2000 1993 with 11 straight points to start the second frame. The mighty duo of former Cav Andre Miller and Howard eventually provided for 25 of the Blazers 31 points in the quarter, as the Blazers took a much more intimidating nine point advantage going into intermission.
That is when things finally started to get interesting for the home team. Supposedly, according to Brian Windhorst with the Plain Dealer, Mike Brown tore into his team for their uninspired first half last night. Here are the actual quotes from the story:
From what some of the players were saying, LeBron got into the team in the first few minutes of the half before Mike Brown came into the room. Then Brown followed with an attack because he felt the defense was weak among other things. Watching Juwan Howard get uncontested baskets in 2009 will do that to a coach.
Interesting developments from the Q and in the second half, LeBron (33-7-7) and his sidekick Mo (14-10), who was also suffering from the stomach flu, mercilessly pounded the basketball into the painted area for cutting teammates. Anderson Varejao was at his absolute finest tonight, finishing 10-17 from the floor in 36 minutes off the bench. Yes, the big story with our forwards was the Shaq getting poked in the eye, but when Anderson can produce like he did last night offensively, the Cavaliers won’t need the plodding Shaqtus come crunch time in big games.
The three-ball was definitely not falling for the Basketball Cavaliers last night, hitting just 3-12 for the game with Mo missing all five of his takes. That did not matter in the end however, as the Cavs were able to simply out-hustle and muscle the depleted Blazers in the second half. With the score tied at 76 heading into the fourth, the Cavs had all the momentum in the world for a comeback attack to take the lead and that is exactly what they did.
It sure was not pretty. Heck, Portland (14-10) is on a major down swing so it was not a very big win either. The major thing for the home team last night was that they find a way to win with LeBron controlling the basketball at the end of a game. Against Memphis, the offense looked out of sync constantly and the defense was absolutely putrid against the pick-and-roll. When playing the Blazers, you have to do a better job of defending LaMarcus Aldridge but you can live with their lead man Brandon Roy shooting just 9-25 from the field.
Take a look at how the distribution of minutes played out last night for Mike Brown’s forwards:
Shaquille O’Neal – 23 minutes, 14 points, 11 rebounds (starter)
J.J. Hickson – 10 minutes, 2 points, 0 rebounds (starter)
Anderson Varejao – 36 minutes, 22 points, 10 rebounds (bench)
Zydrunas Ilgauskas – 17 minutes, 6 points, 2 rebounds (bench)
There are a combined 86 minutes in there, leaving just 12 for LeBron to play the power forward last night. That number should probably be going up later this season with the inconsistency of Hickson and Ilgauskas, but the positives are the two double-doubles and the 24-point victory in terms of points in the paint last night. Shaquille O’Neal will always do that for a team, but it seems like even Anderson is picking up the fact that this team is best when they are pounding it inside while opening up the long shots.
Final notes, according to Cavs: The Blog, LeBron provided 15 points on his 16 jumpers last night. When a guy like him does that from the outside, along with controlling the offensive flow late AND providing that monster block in the last Portland possesion, it is just unreal. Only four turnovers were a positive sign for him last night and hopefully the entire team can carry the momentum to another solid performance Sunday against Oklahoma City.
Picture is Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images).