CLEVELAND, Ohio – For once, the Cavaliers didn’t have to contain a big, skilled playmaker like Luka Doncic or Ben Simmons. Even better, they didn’t have to worry about a talented big man like Kristaps Porzingis or Bam Adebayo who could benefit in the paint because of the Cavs weak perimeter defense.
On Saturday night, the Cavs played a like-sized team in the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland’s tallest player to earn minutes was Skal Labissiere, who is 6-foot-10.
But in their 110-104 win Saturday to end a losing streak at six games, the Cavs contained two of the best guards in the NBA.
Against the Trail Blazers, defending Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum well is half the battle. Lillard has dealt with back spasms and was out the two previous games before Saturday. With his limitless range, though, Lillard opens the Trail Blazers’ offense and provides his teammates with space.
Lillard and McCollum scored 23 and 20 points, respectively, but neither player shot 43% or better from the field.
“In the first half, we did a good job making it tough for Dame (Lillard),” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson said. “We knew he was coming off back soreness and back injury, so you just try to make it tough for him. Obviously, coach (Terry) Stotts made an adjustment in the second half. More (isolations) for him instead of drive and pick-and-roll, so we’d double team him.”
Thompson mentioned how Collin Sexton and Darius Garland were tasked with defending Lillard and McCollum. Though Sexton and Garland haven’t defended well as a backcourt this season, their effort against Lillard and McCollum was pivotal.
Lillard and McCollum played 21 minutes together while Sexton and Garland were also on the floor, according to NBA.com stats. In those 21 minutes, Lillard and McCollum combined for 23 points and shot a combined 39.1% from the field.
In the first half, Lillard’s and McCollum’s numbers were even more indicative of Sexton’s and Garland’s defense.
Lillard and McCollum played 12 minutes together in the first half, scoring a combined seven points while Sexton and Garland were on the floor.
“Just showing body, just being physical with them no matter what,” Sexton said of how he and Garland defended. “Dame (Lillard) hit that three from real deep, but it was cool. Came back down to make some free throws that we needed to seal the game, so it was a good night on the defensive end, and that’s pretty much what got us that win.”
Lillard scored 19 points in the second half, with 16 coming in the fourth quarter. The No. 3 fourth-quarter scorer in the league, Lillard is hard to keep down in his signature “Dame Time.”
The Cavs’ six-game losing streak was filled with shoddy and inconsistent defense. During those six games they allowed 118.3 points per game. With his all-around game, Dallas’ Doncic terrorized the Cavs’ defense in Friday’s 143-101 blowout loss. Duncan Robinson shot 9-of-15 from deep in the Miami Heat’s convincing 124-100 win over Cleveland on Wednesday.
But against the Blazers, the Cavs contained the perimeter relatively well for once. Portland shot 35% from deep.
The Cavs’ defense started on the perimeter, as they didn’t let Lillard and McCollum earn clean looks.
And for a Blazers team that plays through its backcourt, the Cavs had more than a fighting chance.
“Defensively, we really locked in,” the Cavs’ Jordan Clarkson said. “We made a lot of good rotations. We had some problems, we fixed them during the game. We made some adjustments as well. I feel like that’s where we grew the most, because usually we make adjustments during the game and we don’t pick up on them, so I feel like that’s the part where we adjusted the most tonight.”