PORTLAND, Ore. — Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Larry Drew said getting off to a fast start — similar to what happened in the win over the Lakers on Sunday — was of the utmost importance against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Cavs did. Sort of anyway. They trailed by just four points at the end of the first quarter and were within single digits at halftime.
But sustaining that effort was once again problematic, as the Blazers began pulling away in the third quarter and then fought off one last Cleveland rally for the 129-112 win.
In that third quarter, Portland outscored Cleveland, 38-30, taking a 15-point edge to the fourth. It was too much of a hill to climb.
“I just thought we ran out of gas,” Drew said after the game. There were guys that I thought did a heck of a job bringing us back within 10, but we just weren’t able to sustain. When you get down against a team like this and you have to fight back, it’s tough. You know, I told the guys after the game, on the road, you just can’t dig those type of holes against a good team. We just weren’t able to overcome that deficit.”
Another key going into the game, according to veteran Channing Frye, was the 3-point line. The Cavs dominated the paint, winning inside 66-48. But the Blazers buried them beneath a pile of triples.
Sometimes, it turns into a simple math equation. When an opponent drills 16 3-pointers — three more than the Cavs attempted as a team — it’s tough to keep the pace. The Blazers shot a season-high 55.2 percent from beyond the arc.
“We have to defend the 3-pointer,” Drew said. “I thought the first half we didn’t do a good job of that. Break downs defensively. Nothing that we had not talked about, we just didn’t execute coverages.”
In fitting fashion, the last long-range bomb punctuated Portland’s win. Damian Lillard took the pass from center Jusuf Nurkic, who recorded his first career triple-double on that play, and pushed the Blazers ahead by 21, matching the largest lead of the night. That basket allowed Blazers head coach Terry Stotts to pull his starters to a big ovation.
“Man, they can really stroke it and they know how to move the ball,” Cameron Payne said. “You have to try to run them off. Threes are worth more than 2s so we really wanted to run them off and get them to shoot more layups than 3s.”
Lillard led all scorers with 33 points. CJ McCollum chipped in with 19 for Portland.
For the Cavs, five players hit double figures. Jordan Clarkson notched 22. Rodney Hood added 20 on 7-of-15 from the field.
But the story of Wednesday’s game matched the season-long tale for Cleveland: Undone by the third quarter — its Achilles heel — a defense without solutions, and inconsistency from beyond the arc — an area where the Cavs have dropped close to the bottom of the NBA and one that typically defines success or failure for so many squads.
Jordan Clarkson entered Wednesday’s game needing 14 points to reach the 5,000-point mark. He hit that career milestone in the third quarter with a driving layup.
One game after the starters spearheaded the win, Cleveland’s bench bounced back from a rare off night. Led by Clarkson, the reserves poured in 66 points.
Ante Zizic, needed in this matchup against Portland’s collection of bigs, stepped up with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with eight rebounds. Zizic has now scored double figures in the three of the last four games.
Payne, who signed a second 10-day contract on Tuesday night, chipped in with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
The Cavs will continue their road trip against the Utah Jazz on Friday night.