Latest posts by Don McCormack (see all)
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There was no doubt, at least in the mind of Terry Stotts, as to what the difference maker was in the Cleveland Cavaliers catching and then pulling away from his Portland Trail Blazers, 127-110, on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I was pleased with our effort and, obviously, it was a close game going into the fourth quarter,” the Trail Blazers coach told reporters after the game. “Just got away from us.
“Obviously, their bench was the difference, their bench was outstanding. (Dwyane) Wade, Isaiah Thomas, you look at the plus/minus, you look at their scoring, they really made a difference.”
With Thomas making his debut with the Cavaliers after a seven-month layoff to rehabilitate an injured right hip, one that forced him to miss the last three games of the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, the Cleveland bench simply enveloped Portland’s.
Thomas (17 points, 3 assists), Wade (15 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists), Jeff Green (10 points, 4 rebounds 5 assists), Kyle Korver (9 points, 2 rebounds) and Tristan Thompson (6 points, 8 boards) led Cleveland to a colossal 61-23 advantage in bench scoring.
And to enhance Stotts’ points, those five players’ plus/minus was a staggering plus-82. Meanwhile, Portland’s subs were a combined minus-41.
The starting lineup for the Blazers (18-17) gave them a chance to win the game, outscoring the Cleveland starters, 77-66. Damian Lillard (25 points, 6 rebounds), Jusuf Nurkic (23 points, 7 boards, 4 assists, 2 steals), C.J. McCollum (19 points, 5 boards, 4 assists) and Eric Turner (15 points, 8 rebounds, 3 dimes).
However, those four guys, along with Al-Farouq Aminu rounding out the starting unit for Portland, all had to play 29 or minutes to keep the Trail Blazers in the game, which they did in the contest being tied through a good portion of the fourth quarter.
Conversely, though, with Thomas’ return, the Cavaliers simply came at the Trail Blazer in waves. In fact, only one Cleveland starter, LeBron James (24 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals), had to log more than 26 minutes. James played 33 minutes, but even that is four minutes below his season average.
Coach Tyronn Lue orchestrated his rotation and got everyone involved. Of the 10 Cleveland players who played the majority of the game, nine of them played between 17 and 26 minutes, showing off the type of depth the Cavaliers were gunning from when they granted Kyrie Irving’s shocking request for a trade and shipped him to Boston in exchange for Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and two draft choices.
Portland, it should be noted, was playing its third game in four nights and the second of a back-to-back, having gone to overtime to defeat the Chicago Bulls the night before at United Center. A 19-3 fourth-quarter run by the Cavaliers proved to be decisive Tuesday night.
“I thought we played a really solid game, up until the last eight minutes of the game, I guess,” Lillard, who returned after missing Portland’s previous five games because of a hamstring injury, said. “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.”
Lillard took heart, even in defeat.
“We moved the ball really well, I thought we competed hard, we played smart,” he said. “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.”