Cleveland Cavaliers left punchless in Portland – cleveland.com
PORTLAND, Ore. – It was like watching the Ronda Rousey-Holly Holm fight all over again Saturday night at The Moda Center, with the lone exception of an official not being able to stop the pummeling.
The Portland Trail Blazers battered the defending Eastern Conference champs for a full 48 minutes Saturday, 105-76. The Cavaliers (19-9) were without Kyrie Irving and playing for the second time in as many nights, but the rebuilding Trail Blazers were without Damian Lillard.
It was a stunning, one-sided affair and Portland (12-20) refused to let up. Cavaliers’ coach David Blatt said his team was “flat as all get-up.”
“We got kicked in the keister. That’s it,” he said candidly.
This bout went the distance, though it was very much decided in the first half. Cleveland’s bodies might have made it to the Pacific Northwest, but their frame of mind remained in the Bay Area.
Players privately spoke about how much energy they exerted in the 89-83 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Blatt agreed, somewhat.
“I’m sure that had something to do with it and I’m sure the travel and the back-to-back and the hangover from yesterday’s game had something to do with that,” Blatt said. “But you’re asking me an legitimate question and I’m trying to give you an a legitimate answer, but that sounds like an excuse. There’s no excuse that I can give you that’s reasonable.”
It’s reasonable to suggest Cleveland didn’t put up a fight at all, but there was a miniature sign of a competitive pulse. In the third quarter, Meyers Leonard and Iman Shumpert got their arms tangled as they fought for position. Shumpert didn’t like how Leonard was twisting his arm so he pushed the big man and the two squared up.
Teammates intervened, but that wasn’t the end of it.
After the game, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, LeBron James and Shumpert were talking in the corridor outside the locker room. Where they gathered was adjacent to the designated area where family and friends wait for the players.
All players, home or away, typically walk past the visiting team’s locker room to get to their loved ones. Leonard, all alone, was headed that way. Seeing the Cavaliers quartet in his way, he lowered his head and marched forward.
This portion of the walkthrough felt like it went in slow motion.
James, who was standing on Leonard’s right, shot a glare at the seven-footer. Leonard never made eye contact. The last player he had to pass before making it to the family zone was Shumpert, who was on his left looking directly at him.
You could feel the tension in that hallway. Leonard never stopped moving, nor looked up. It wasn’t the time to be exchanging pleasantries. He made it through without provoking another altercation.
That was the extent of the Cavaliers’ hostility.
“We really didn’t do anything right in the first half. Nothing,” Blatt said. You can make a strong argument that nothing of significance happened after the first half as well.
With players working themselves back into shape, with Irving sitting out, with Blatt trying to figure out an effective rotation, the team seems thoroughly out of rhythm. It was the third straight game the Cavaliers shot below 38 percent from the field and they’re 1-2 in that span.
It’s going to take some time before the pieces start to fit, but a team expecting to contend yet failing to compete is unacceptable.
“We did a heck of a job through 26 games of really competing and winning games,” Blatt said, “but now we’re kind of going through what we may have gone through in the preseason and we just have to fight through it.”