Blazers score sluggish win over Cavaliers




PORTLAND — There are some wins in which the public address announcer is desperately trying to be heard above the crowd, and others where a buzzer-beater or fourth-quarter comeback gives observers a lifetime memory.

Then, there are wins like the one Sunday night — ugly, stale … the Cleveland of victories.

Still, while Portland’s 98-78 pummeling of the Cavaliers may not resemble that of more colorful triumphs, it looks just the same in the standings. And as the Blazers (6-2) were able to successfully shake off their 25-point embarrassment to the Suns on Friday, that’s all that matters to the club.

“Big bounce-back win for us,” said Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored a game-high 28 points and added eight rebounds. “We came out kind sluggish in the first half, kind of found our rhythm defensively in the second half and we put them away.”

“Sluggish” may actually be the most positive way to describe Portland’s opening 24 minutes without straying from accuracy. The Blazers shot 26.9 percent in the first quarter and finished the half at 39.1. Fortunately, they were facing a Cleveland team that hit fewer than 32 percent of its first-half shots while committing 14 turnovers.

So as Wesley Matthews knocked down a 3-pointer to beat the second-quarter buzzer, Portland went into the locker room up 42-35.

That’s when Nate McMillan delivered a message.

“I just felt like we had to work harder. We needed to dig down and work harder on both ends of the floor,” the Blazers coach said. “Defensively, we were kind of just like in a daze. Kind of flat. It looked very similar to the Phoenix game.”

That Phoenix game Friday ended in a 102-77 drubbing that sucked all the satisfaction out of the Blazers’ trouncing of the Lakers the night before. But Sunday, Portland found a way to fall on the palatable side of the blowout.

Twenty of Aldridge’s 28 points came in the second half as the power forward hit 10 of his 21 shots. Twelve of Matthews’ 24 points came in the latter 24 minutes, as did seven of Gerald Wallace’s 16.

And while Portland scored 14 more points in the second half than it did the first, its defense remained stifling, limiting the Cavs (4-4) to 36.7 percent shooting while forcing 24 turnovers and scoring 28 fast-break points.

“I’ve never seen us that flip with the ball, kind of throwing it everywhere like it was a hot potato,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. “That was my message to the team tonight — we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win the basketball game.”

Had Portland’s opponent been even mediocre, one might be talking about the Blazers failing to give themselves a chance to win. Then again, McMillan sensed before the game that his team might fall victim to lethargy, an obstacle that will likely be more present this year than any season he’s coached.

“I kind of felt we had a long day yesterday and then we didn’t have them really moving around until right before the game … this is going to be an adjustment for us. Sometimes you can lay around too much,” McMillan said. “It’s a challenge because of this year and the number of games and just the way the schedule is. You have to do different things and you have to learn from games in the past.”

McMillan did not pull his starters out until the 2:59 mark in the fourth quarter, when the Blazers held a 22-point lead. Asked why he kept them in so long, McMillan responded “give me a break on that … when do you sub?”

Fair question Sunday given how the second unit went just 12 of 37 from the field.

The lone bright spot for Cleveland on Sunday was rookie point guard Kyrie Irving. The Duke product, who went No. 1 in last June’s draft, scored 21 points on 9 of 17 shooting.

His production stood in stark contrast to the three points Cleveland’s leading scorer Antawn Jamison provided, but given the outcome, Irving didn’t leave the building happy.

“It was kind of interesting being out there, especially having 24 turnovers,” Irving said. “We have to limit our mistakes going forward. It was a tough game.”