CLEVELAND, Ohio -- What closing issues?
The Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight game Wednesday night, beating the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers, 114-96, in front of a spirited crowd on Thanksgiving Eve.
Let’s consider this Cleveland’s Turkey Day appetizer.
During a recent five-game losing skid that preceded this promising about-face, the Cavs lamented a handful of self-inflicted losses caused by perplexing late-game stumbles. For the fourth consecutive game, Cleveland took a lead into the fourth quarter -- and finished.
“It seems like every game we’re getting better at closing games,” Jarrett Allen said following the win. “If you look at that closing stretch, there are some games we dropped because we let off the gas pedal. But games like this home stretch when we’re up by 10 and we need to keep the lead, we’ve been improving in that -- still playing our game, still making the simple plays to get the job done.”
On Monday, it was an 11-2 surge in the final minutes that put the game out of reach. This time, it was a 10-2 run to open the fourth, lighting up the arena and extending the lead to a game-high 20 points.
While the Blazers made a couple final-quarter runs, sparked by dynamic guard Anfernee Simons who poured in 14 of his 20 points in the fourth, the Cavs responded every time. Donovan Mitchell’s left-wing 3-pointer at the 2:42 mark put the frosting on this pie. Shortly after, both teams emptied the bench when Mitchell dribbled out of bounds on purpose.
“I thought we were good defensively,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “I thought we did a good job of controlling the tempo, playing at our pace. And then again lessons learned at the end of the game. They made a run, cut it to 12 I think it was, but our guys didn’t panic. We got into our sets, executed our sets, and were able to extend the lead. Continuing to learn how to finish, but we did a good job of that tonight.”
Even though the Cavs got off to a sluggish early start, they ended the first quarter on a 9-0 run and took control of the game. In all, Cleveland led for 40 of a possible 48 minutes in a matchup that featured seven lead changes and five ties early, before the Cavs eventually blew the game open.
Now 4-0 since inserting Lamar Stevens into the starting lineup, Bickerstaff has created a quintet with the right offense-defense blend.
“He’s got great poise. He’s not afraid of the moment. There’s not a matchup he doesn’t believe he’s got the favor,” Bickerstaff said of Stevens. “At the end of the game, when you’ve got guys like Donovan and Darius (Garland) and their ability to create for others and score, you’re gonna need to get those stops. And Lamar has been able to fit in with that group to help them get stops. The threesome -- him and Jarrett and Evan (Mobley) -- it’s tough defensively. We’re working to find that balance, but I think he’s done a great job so far.”
All five starters scored in double figures Wednesday.
Mitchell led the way with a game-high 34 points, once again serenaded with MVP chants. Garland and Allen each had 24. Stevens chipped in with 12 while Mobley recorded a double-double, scoring 10 points to go with 12 boards.
Portland, playing without star point guard Damian Lillard, got 22 points from burly center Jusuf Nurkic and 21 from Jerami Grant. But Grant was held scoreless in the second half, missing the only three shots he attempted.
Last week, the Cavs dejectedly returned from Milwaukee, shrouded in uncertainly during a nasty slump. They had a plethora of heart to hearts in hopes of fixing their problems. Vowed to make changes. After a week at home, it seems like those issues have been solved. Wednesday capped a perfect four-game homestand.
There’s no place like home.
Kevin Love was inactive for the second time in the last three games because of a hairline fracture in his right thumb. Love, who tried to gut through the injury against Atlanta the other night, is still in a considerable amount of pain. Bickerstaff said Love will need to continue to manage the pain for a little while as his thumb heals. Along with that, Love is also under the weather, which prevented him from participating in shootaround and attending Wednesday’s game.
The Cavs will travel to Milwaukee for a rematch against the Bucks on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
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