CLEVELAND, Ohio — For the first time since their Nov. 10 road win over the New York Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t down at halftime on Saturday night.
The Cavs’ three-game road trip included playing two playoff-caliber teams in the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat, with both losses being by 20 or more points. But against the Portland Trail Blazers, at home, the Cavs’ fortunes changed.
Cleveland defeated the Trail Blazers, 110-104, to erase a six-game losing streak. Jordan Clarkson helped the Cavs immensely off the bench, scoring a season-high 28 points and shooting 6-for-6 from the 3-point line. Clarkson scored 14 of his points in the fourth quarter. His heroics came 24 hours after a scoreless outing against the Mavericks.
“I was hitting. They kept going to me,” Clarkson said. “I was moving a lot as well, setting screens for people. Just trying to find a way to get open. They did a good job of just finding me. At the same time, I was moving a lot. Just trying to be involved.”
Tristan Thompson tied his season-high of 25 points, using hook shots and other moves for easy buckets inside. Though Thompson is the Cavs’ third-leading scorer, he had been in a bit of a slump. He’s averaged a career-high 14.1 points a game this season, but only 8.3 over in his previous four games. He added nine rebounds and two assists.
Collin Sexton had 19 points with three steals while Larry Nance added 11 points in filling in for Kevin Love at power forward. Love sat out with a sore back aggravated in Dallas on Friday. Cedi Osman only had five points, but he stuffed the stat sheet with 12 rebounds, a team-high five assists and a steal.
Coach John Beilein said one of the best plays he saw from Osman was one that was ran for him.
“He came off, he made the right decision, he circled out. He got the ball, drove baseline and found Jordan (Clarkson) up at the top,” Beilein said. “So the play was for him, but he wasn’t thirsty, say ‘I’m going to shoot it.’ He gave it up and got it back, and then made the next play again.”
Osman has been primarily in a 3-and-D role this season, shooting 4.1 3-pointers a game this season. But his involvement as a playmaker has been effective. He serves as an outlet for the offense, particularly off curls toward the paint.
His ability to slash is perhaps his best attribute offensively, and that can help him continue contributing to the offense.
“He’s got that length to throw over people like we saw in Dallas,” Beilein said. “When a guy can do that, it’s tough to guard.”
Putting together a consistent first-half performance long on hustle if a little spotty with offensive consistency, the Cavs reached halftime with a 49-42 lead. But they were fast out of the locker room to start the third quarter. Rookie point guard Darius Garland scored five quick points to help fuel a 9-2 surge to create a double-digit lead that the Cavaliers nursed the rest of the game.
In their first win since Nov. 10, the Cavs maintained an energetic pace. The first and third quarters were tied, and the Cavs won the second quarter. They lost the fourth quarter by one point.
For one of the few times all season, the Cavs did not face a team that presented them with significant matchup issues. Most teams take advantage of the Cavs’ lack of size on the perimeter, attacking the lane because the Cavs lack a legitimate rim protector.
According to NBA.com, the Cavs ranked 28th in opponent points in the paint (51.7) before Saturday. They gave up 36 points in the paint against the Trail Blazers.
With the Cavs snapping their losing streak, this is a win that could help them see what playing with patience and appropriate aggression on offense produces. The Cavs can’t help being undersized, but they did defend the perimeter (Portland shot 35 percent from distance) and dominated the glass 51-35.
Both Sexton and Garland helped to contain Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. While both Lillard and McCollum scored at least 20 points, neither shot above 43% from the field.
“Just showing body, just being physical with them no matter what,” Sexton said. “And playing to the end. 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.”
The Cavs will play the Brooklyn Nets at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on Monday night at 7 p.m. EST.