It’s going to take a while before the Cleveland Cavaliers in their big three era, which includes LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, click and fulfill their enormous potential. The long road they need to go through was highlighted in a 101-82 loss against the Portland Trail Blazers, a much more ‘ready’ team, finally getting a big game out of Damian Lillard.
The third-year point guard struggled through the first few games this season but rose to the challenge when facing Kyrie Irving. Lillard led his team with 27 points, including five 3-pointers. When Lillard’s long shot drops, he becomes a lot more aggressive, resulting in 10-for-10 from the line, also grabbing six rebounds and dishing out seven assists. He took only three shots that weren’t from beyond the arc during the game.
The opposing point guard, Kyrie Irving, was having an awful game. It looked like LeBron James, scoring just 11 points on 4-of-12 from the field, resigned himself to a corner, letting the balls go through him but not really trying to influence the game. This put Irving and Kevin Love under more pressure and maybe as a way to try and teach this team to do well without him. It didn’t work on this attempt, although it means nothing about the rest of the season. James can be amazing, like he was in the win over the Bulls.
Irving scored just nine points on 3-of-17 from the field. It’s his second worst shooting performance of his career when attempting at least 15 shots from the field. He had a 2-of-15 game against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2012-2013 season. James, scoring 11 points or less for only the 16th time of his career, is often on the losing side in these games, falling to 5-11 when his involvement offensively is so minimal.
Kevin Love did show up unlike his two partners, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He won the individual battle with LaMarcus Aldridge, scoring 16 points, but Wesley Matthews had a very good game, scoring 21 points, as he continues to be the most consistent player on this team since the beginning of the season. Robin Lopez dominated under the basket, highlighting another problem for the Cavaliers right now, as both Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson struggling keeping him in check, en route to scoring 19 points.
The Blazers got nothing from their bench, but got 90 points from their starting lineup, which is usually more than enough to win games, even without a big game for Nicolas Batum, who did a good job of keeping LeBron James away from the ball, trading shifts on him along with Matthews. Maybe it was something of an effort problem from the Cavaliers, something Blatt hinted at after the game, but slowing down James to 33% from the field and scoring less than a point per shot hasn’t been something many have been able to do over the years.
The Blazers are a very good team, especially at home, but they need more from their bench if this season isn’t going to be about “just” making the playoffs. For the Cavaliers, it’s a learning curve and about chemistry and learning how to play with and off of each other. Putting stars together is a good way to succeed, but it doesn’t guarantee wins right away, and it’s probably going to be a while before we’re seeing the Cavaliers looking like the Heat did at their best during their own big three era.