CLEVELAND: Thirty-five thoughts tonight, one for each of the Blazers’ points off offensive rebounds in their 119-116 win over the Cavs that was so wild even LeBron James tweeted, “one of the best games this year so far if not the best.”
1. It’s funny how terrible shots turn into great shots when they go in. Damian Lillard took a bad shot, OK? His heave from about 30 feet at the end of the game, strategically, was not a good shot. But it went in, so it was a great shot.
2. It was reminiscent of Kyrie Irving’s game-winning 3-pointer last year in Toronto, which was also a terrible shot. But it went in, so it was a great shot. That’s why I was surprised to hear Waiters questioning Alonzo Gee’s defense on the final possession.
3. “We’ve got all the confidence in the world in Zo. That’s what he does. He locks down,” Waiters said. “In a situation like that, I think you’ve got to get up in him a little bit more. I’d rather him try to drive and shoot a lay-up than just dribble and step into it. It’s a rhythm shot and he hit it.”
4. I don’t know about you, but if I’m a coach, I’d rather have Lillard heaving from 30 feet than dribble driving the lane, which causes the defense to collapse and allows Lillard to dump off to LaMarcus Aldridge for a 2-foot shot. I’ll take my odds on 30 footers every day. He made the shot. Good on him.
5. “I didn’t want to get in too deep because they’ve got some giants in there,” Lillard said. “And Alonzo Gee is a great athlete, so I didn’t want to drive on him. I gave him a move to get him off-balance and I wanted to be ready when I froze him.”
6. Waiters said he knew Lillard was getting the ball. So did everyone else. The Blazers went to Aldridge on their previous possession and he missed in the post. Lillard was sensational all night and deserved the ball in his hands at the end. He is quickly elevating his game into that elite status. Like Irving, he won the Rookie of the Year award. And like Irving, he’s showing a fondness for making game winners in his second season. He has two in each of the Blazers’ last two games.
7. “It’s tough in that situation,” Mike Brown said. “He’s a very good player and he’s more than capable of driving by you and finishing. Their last game in Detroit he drove by somebody and shot a pull-up. He’s a very good player, so you pick your poison.”
8. If anything, I thought Irving went too fast on the Cavs’ last real possession. He saw the opening and took it, dropping a pass off to Anderson Varejao. But it left the Blazers 7 seconds to respond.
9. Now that all of that is out of the way, this game shouldn’t have come down to the final possession. The Cavs should’ve won this game by double figures, but they couldn’t rebound.
10. Aldridge had 15 rebounds. Fine. He entered averaging 11. But Nic Batum had 9, Lillard had 8 (tying a career high), Joel Freeland had 7 and Thomas Robinson had 6.
11. My notebook for the paper tonight was going to be on rebounding and how well the Cavs’ guards have been at it, but then the Dion Waiters trade talk resurfaced, so the rebounding guards had to be postponed. Good thing.
12. Brown wants his guards at the free-throw line and around the elbows to grab long defensive rebounds, particularly against 3-point shooting teams like the Blazers since missed 3-pointers typically result in long rebounds.
13. I saw Cavs guards out of position multiple times defensively, and sure enough the rebounds caromed exactly to spots where Brown wants his guards. Brown burned a 20-second timeout at one point and went directly to Irving to talk to him after a Blazers miss came down around the elbow. But Irving was out of position, the Blazers got the rebound and basket.
14. The Cavs limited the Blazers to one shot on their first four possessions of the fourth quarter. It’s no surprise that coincided with the Cavs scoring the first 9 points of the fourth to turn a 92-88 deficit into a 97-92 lead. That three-minute stretch was likely the longest the Blazers went all night without an offensive rebound.
15. “The one thing I felt like I could always count on and hopefully I can count on this going forward is our ability to rebound,” Brown said. “It’s tough to swallow knowing they had that many offensive rebounds for that many second-chance points. It’s tough.”
16. The other glaring problem is the ongoing saga with Andrew Bynum. The Cavs’ biggest magic act is constantly making a 7-footer disappear. Just as he was getting his swagger back, Bynum was irrelevant during the two games in Florida because the Cavs ignored him. They got him back involved during the first half Tuesday when the Blazers tried defending him one-on-one with Robin Lopez. It didn’t go well.
17. Bynum had 13 points and seven rebounds in the first half, shot 6-for-12 and was having his way with Lopez. Then the Blazers began doubling him more in the second half and he didn’t get a shot the rest of the night.
18. “You watch any game we play and teams that front him, we have a tough time getting him the ball,” Brown said. “Sometimes it brings us to a standstill and makes us real stagnant offensively. We just have to try to keep figuring out what we can do to give him the basketball when teams decide to front him.”
19. Bynum was showered, dressed and out of the locker room tonight long before reporters were allowed in.
20. “We have to continue trying to figure out how to work with him to make the game easier for him,” Brown said, “and he has to keep having the patience with our young guys. We’re working on trying to be able to play with him the right way.”
21. Waiters was terrific again tonight, and particularly terrific again early in the fourth quarter when Irving was resting. Just like Friday at Orlando, Waiters was red-hot at the start of the fourth quarter. He had 6 points in the first 2 ½ minutes, 11 in the fourth quarter and 25 for the game.
22. One of his biggest problems has been his inconsistency. He could get 30 points one night, then shoot 3 of 12 the next three games and total 15 points. But he’s been terrific lately.
23. Waiters is averaging 20.6 points over his last three games and 16.8 over his last six. More importantly, he’s shooting 48 percent over his last three games – a dramatic improvement over his career 41 percent mark.
24. Brown has really been on Waiters lately to rebound, believing his natural strength and frame should allow him to grab 5 or 6 rebounds a night. He’s averaging 3.2 this season and had 3 again Tuesday, although one of those was a big offensive rebound that resulted in a basket.
25. Waiters again was forced to dismiss rumors he has asked the Cavs to trade him following a Bleacher Report story that posted shortly before Tuesday’s game. Waiters said he’s comfortable and happy here despite the constant speculation.
26. Dan Gilbert even joined the party, tweeting after the game, “Heard another ‘fiction writer’ released a sports article on the subject earlier or so I am told’ after a fan tweeted at Gilbert not to trade Waiters.
27. And while we’re on the topic of trade rumors, Brown had the line of the year when asked about the possibility of dealing Dion. Brown ran a reverse and instead acknowledged another trade rumor involving the Cavs.
28. “It’s funny to hear people report that Anderson Varejao is getting traded for Omer Asik,” Brown said while butchering the pronunciation of Asik’s last name. “If I can’t pronounce his name, you know it ain’t going to happen. It’s mind-boggling.” The Cavs have no interest in Asik, but they could still get involved if it turns into a three-team deal, which ESPN has reported multiple times it could.
29. The Cavs have dropped consecutive games now following their three-game winning streak, but this team is starting to figure some things out. They rallied from 19 down on the road against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and took the lead in the fourth quarter. They rallied from 10 down in the final 2:14 at home against the best team in the West and would’ve gone to overtime if not for a terrific shot from another talented young point guard.
30. This team isn’t good enough yet to win seven or eight games in a row. But if they keep “winning series” to steal a baseball term (taking two of every three games or three of every four), they will be a playoff team and finish with a winning record.
31. Overshadowed by the loss is the fact the Cavs shot 47 percent and only turned the ball over six times, a remarkably low number given the frenetic pace at which the game was played. The Blazers, conversely, had 14 turnovers. Another illustration how the Blazers’ significant rebounding edge was the difference in the game.
32. The Cavs have averaged 110.3 points in their last four games. The last time that happened was April 4-9, 2010 when they were the best team in the East and won 61 games.
33. So I tried talking to Jarrett Jack tonight before the game about the guards’ ability to rebound. He had just arrived to the arena and was changing. He said he had some important business to handle and he’d be right back.
34. Irving was on the floor getting stretched, as is his normal pregame routine. Jack proceeded to run back and forth over top Irving a couple of times as if he was bouncing off the ropes of a wrestling ring, then he dropped an elbow on Irving and tried to pin him. Irving, for the record, slipped the shoulder up at 2 ½. Jack popped up, walked back over to me and said, “OK, I’m good.” Kids these days…
35. The Cavs are now 9-15. There are eight teams in the East clustered within two games of each other. Three of their next four games are at home and the only road game is Saturday against a reeling Bulls team that has lost its way. Four of their next five games are against teams with losing records. Now is their chance to keep climbing.