Statement wins in the middle of an NBA season are hard to come by, but the Portland Trail Blazers thoroughly dominated the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday at the Moda Center, 102-86.
Portland looked like a legitimate playoff contender as it won its third game in four tries and moved to 18-23 on the campaign. It is still shaking off a slow start to the season, but Wednesday's effort was an indication it can play with the best teams in the league.
The Cavaliers fell to 28-10 on the season and are now 2-3 in their last five. ESPN Stats & Info noted they have also struggled in back-to-backs away from home:
Damian Lillard is often the name that comes to mind with the Trail Blazers, but his talented backcourt mate, C.J. McCollum, did the heavy lifting on the offensive side. McCollum led the way with 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 from three-point range. He also mixed in four blocks.
Lillard scored 14 points, while Allen Crabbe added 24 off the bench. Crabbe wasn't the only bench piece to impress for Portland Wednesday, as Evan Turner dished out 11 assists and grabbed eight boards.
As for Cleveland, LeBron James tallied 20 points and 11 rebounds but committed five of his team's 15 turnovers. Kyrie Irving had three and shot 4-of-16 from the field on his way to 11 points, while Kevin Love notched 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
Anne M. Peterson of the Associated Press (h/t ABC News) noted snowfall in the Portland area impacted travel for both teams. Cleveland didn't arrive in Portland until 3 a.m. after losing to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, while the Trail Blazers arrived on Wednesday after flying into Seattle following Tuesday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
That didn't stop the two sides from trading spurts throughout the first quarter. Portland jumped out to a 13-9 lead, but Cleveland battled back and seized an 18-15 advantage with an Irving basket.
However, the Trail Blazers ended the first with a 12-2 run to take a 27-20 lead. Al-Farouq Aminu scored eight points in the opening quarter, while Love countered with eight for Cleveland before temporarily leaving the game after hitting knees with Ed Davis, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com.
It wasn't all bad news for the Cavaliers, as NBA on ESPN noted James moved up the NBA's all-time assist list:
Portland's defense set the tone early in the second, and Crabbe extended the lead to double digits at 34-24 with an and-1.
The Trail Blazers continued to pour it on and built a 42-26 advantage when Turner snuck a transition pass around James to Maurice Harkless for a dunk after Aminu blocked Irving:
Crabbe's three pushed the lead to 45-30, but Love capped a 9-0 Cleveland run with a three to climb within six. The Trail Blazers ultimately built a 49-41 halftime lead, and Turner drew praise from Jason Quick of CSNNW.com for helping hold James to 2-of-6 shooting in the first two quarters:
Portland created separation early in the third thanks to sharp shooting from McCollum. He hit a three-pointer and two mid-range jumpers in the course of three minutes and gave the home team a 61-48 lead.
NBA analyst Nate Duncan pointed out the Trail Blazers' defensive strategy on DeAndre Liggins also helped them establish control in the quarter:
Lillard then added some style to Portland's impressive quarter, as the team shared:
Portland went ahead by as many as 18 at 69-51 before James drilled two threes to climb back within striking distance at 71-61. Crabbe's jumper made it 73-61 heading to the fourth and gave the swingman 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting to help pick up the slack for Lillard, who was 4-of-13.
Cleveland cut the deficit to single digits at 75-66 with a Richard Jefferson and-1, but McCollum answered again with two threes and a left-handed runner in the lane to make it 85-69 with less than eight minutes remaining.
The Trail Blazers reacted to the guard's impressive effort:
Portland removed any doubt at the outcome from there, and Crabbe's basket off another Turner assist made it 92-71. Cleveland also largely emptied its bench for the stretch run in the second game of a back-to-back.
The Trail Blazers kept their starting unit in for a stretch after the Cavaliers turned to the bench just to ensure there would be no comebacks on Wednesday. There weren't, and Portland put things on cruise control in the final minutes of the straightforward victory.
The Cavaliers continue their six-game road trip on Friday against the Sacramento Kings before Monday's NBA Finals rematch with the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland won the first matchup on Christmas Day and will look to sweep the season series before another potential showdown in June.
The Trail Blazers stay home on Friday to face the Orlando Magic before a four-game Eastern Conference road trip against the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. They entered play Wednesday tied for the No. 8 seed in the West and will look to build momentum after the impressive win over the Cavaliers.