CLEVELAND, Ohio — What are the closure problems?
The Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight game Wednesday night, defeating the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers, 114-96, in front of a lively crowd on Thanksgiving Eve.
Let’s consider this Cleveland Turkey Day appetizer.
During a recent five-game losing slide that preceded this promising about-face, the Cavs bemoaned a handful of self-inflicted losses brought on by puzzling late-game fumbles. For the fourth straight game, Cleveland took the lead in the fourth quarter and shut out.
“It feels like every game we’re getting better at closing out games,” Jarrett Allen said after the win. “If you look at that final stretch, there are some games that we gave up because we released the gas pedal. But games like this home stretch when we’re up by 10 and need to keep the lead, we’re getting better at that, still playing our game, still making the simple plays to get the job done.
It was an 11-2 surge in the closing minutes on Monday that put the game out of reach. This time, it was a 10-2 run that opened the quarter, lighting up the arena and extending the lead to 20 points.
While the Blazers had a couple of runs in the fourth quarter, sparked by dynamic guard Anfernee Simons putting up 14 of her 20 points in the quarter, the Cavs struck back every time. Donovan Mitchell’s left-wing hat-trick at 2:42 put the icing on this cake. Soon after, both teams emptied the dugout when Mitchell purposely dribbled out of bounds.
“I thought we were good on defense,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said. “I think we did a good job of controlling the tempo, playing at our own pace. And then again lessons he learned at the end of the game. They had a run, cut it down to 12, I think it was, but our guys didn’t panic. We got into our sets, ran our sets and were able to extend the lead. Continuing to learn how to finish, but we did a good job tonight.
Though the Cavs got off to a slow start, they finished 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 opened the game.
Now 4-0 since adding Lamar Stevens to the starting lineup, Bickerstaff has created a quintet with the right attack-defense mix.
“He has great balance. She is not afraid of the moment. There isn’t a matchup that he doesn’t believe he has the favor in,” Bickerstaff said of Stevens. “At the end of the game, when you have guys like Donovan and Darius (Garland) and their ability to create for others and score, you’re going to need those points. And Lamar was able to adapt to that group to help stop them. The trio — him, Jarrett and Evan (Mobley) — are 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 on Wednesday.
Mitchell led the way with a season-high 34 points, again serenaded with MVP chants. Garland and Allen each had 24. Stevens finished with 12 while Mobley recorded a double-double, scoring 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Portland, playing without star point guard Damian Lillard, had 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 returned dejected from Milwaukee, shrouded in uncertainty amid a nasty slump. They had a plethora of heart-to-hearts hoping to resolve their issues. Promised to make changes. After a week at home, these issues seem to have been resolved. Closed out a perfect family of four games Wednesday.
There’s no place like home.
Kevin Love was inactive for the second time in his last three games with a subtle fracture in his right thumb. Love, who tried to gut his injury against Atlanta last night, is still in great pain. Bickerstaff said Love will need to continue managing the pain for a while while his thumb heals. Along with this, Love is also under the weather which prevented him from attending the shootaround and attending Wednesday’s match.
The Cavs travel to Milwaukee for a rematch against the Bucks on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 8pm
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