CLEVELAND – Random dribbles on the Cavaliers’ 105-100 win over the visiting Trail Blazers on Tuesday.
1. Even when the Cavaliers trailed by 18 points in the first half, I didn’t count them out. In fact, I still sort of figured they would win. Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the Blazers were red hot and I assumed that, eventually, their shooting would level off. Heck, even Blazers center Meyers Leonard hit a 3-pointer in the first half. Seriously. Meyers Leonard.
2. OK, so Lillard (33 points) and McCollum (24) never really did go cold. But the Cavs made them work much harder for their points in the final two quarters. Part of it was the Blazers were making everything they threw up in the first half. Part of it was because the Cavs were letting them. It was a bad combination.
3. As an aside, wouldn’t it be nice if every opponent the Cavs faced played something other than their absolute best game? I don’t know if that’s actually the case, but it sure feels that way. No doubt, going up against LeBron James — and the bright lights and TV ratings that come with it — clearly motivates people.
4. It’s a lot different than playing, say, the Orlando Magic when no one is really watching. It’s only human nature to go all out against the game’s biggest names. So yes, King James and the Cavs end up getting everyone’s best shot, every stinking minute of every stinking night. Still, few succeed.
5. As you know, the Cavs had lost three straight and James returned after a game of rest. You can read my quick game recap here. But just know LeBron looked completely refreshed on his way to 33 points and 10 rebounds.
6. Kevin Love also returned to form. He didn’t rest Saturday’s loss at Miami, but he sure didn’t make much of an impact, either. This time, Love was much more aggressive, attacking the basket, drawing fouls and not settling for perimeter shots. In the end, Love scored 18 points and went 8-of-10 shooting on free throws.
7. As Cavs coach David Blatt said, the difference between Love’s aggressiveness from last game to this was “noticeable.”
8. More Blatt on Love: “Look, Kev is a critical player for us. We need him to play well and to play as hard as he did tonight. (He) was an important factor.”
9. OK, two nitpicky concerns: Love is 0-of-13 on 3-pointers in his last four games combined. It’s good he didn’t just settle for jumpers, but the Cavs also need him to stretch the defense a little. He can’t afford to lose confidence from the outside. He attempted only one shot from beyond the arc Tuesday.
10. The other nitpicky concern: Love finished with just four boards — and the Cavs were outrebounded by a 36-30 count. Granted, some of that had to do with Blatt’s decision to go small (he started guard Jared Cunningham instead of center Timofey Mozgov in the second half). But some of it is the Cavs just haven’t been going after rebounds like they should.
11. That’s not meant to pick on Love. Tristan Thompson was 1-of-3 shooting for two points and six rebounds. Mozgov played just 7 minutes and didn’t score, didn’t attempt a shot, didn’t grab a rebound, didn’t even commit a foul. Anderson Varejao played six minutes and didn’t attempt a shot, either.
12. Read: The Cavs need more from their big men. There’s no other way to spin it.
13. Frankly, it’s a reason Blatt decided to go small. “We played the lineup that we had to play in order to win that game,” he said. “That’s what you gotta do sometimes. Maybe it’s not exactly how you want to do it, or uncomfortable for somebody, but you gotta play to win.”
14. Blatt said that after being asked a question about Mozgov. His take on Mozgov specifically: “He’s just gotta keep working and keeping improving and get back to where he was.”
15. Meanwhile, the guards and wings did indeed do their jobs. Matthew Dellavedova was his typical self by offering endless energy and contributing 7-of-12 shooting (including 3-of-5 on threes) for 17 important points. Cunningham scored 13 and did a nice job defensively.
16. The Cavs play just three more games in the next nine days — Friday, Tuesday and a week from Thursday. Despite winning just one of their previous four, they’re 14-7 and remain in first place in the Eastern Conference. Sometime soon, I suspect, Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert will be back. And man, that could be all she wrote for the rest of the East.