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Cleveland Cavaliers: Damian Lillard Crushes the Cavs' Hopes With Another Game-Winner

In Arguably the Single Best Game of the NBA Season, Lillard and the Blazers Got the Best of Cleveland

Yahoo Contributor Network
COMMENTARY | There's no such thing as a moral victory in the NBA, but the Cleveland Cavaliers came as close as they possibly could to one Tuesday night in a 119-116 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland point guard Damian Lillard was simply astounding in the game.

The second-year guard out of Weber State hit three after three on his way to a 36-point, 10-assist, and eight-rebound performance that included the clutch game-winning deep ball in Alonzo Gee's face.

The game was a basketball fan's dream as the Blazers and Cavaliers went shot-for-shot for nearly the entire game. LeBron James even took to Twitter and blessed it with his seal of approval.

Cleveland's tandem of Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving did their best to get the win as both had great fourth quarters, but Portland's cold-blooded kid was simply too much for Cleveland to handle.

In a battle of young, dynamic point guards, Lillard topped Irving, but just barely. In the closing minutes of the game, Irving scored nine points in 61 seconds and completed an amazing pass to Anderson Varejao in the post that tied the game up with just 7 seconds left.

It was then that Lillard drained the energy from Quicken Loans Arena with one of his now commonplace jaw-dropping game-winners. The young floor general's poise is something to be heralded. With the game winding down, and everyone in the building aware that he was going to take the last shot, Lillard pulled up from about three feet behind the arc, released the ball in the face of Gee, and walked away from the table with a winning hand.

If it wasn't for the shot, the story of the game would have been the play of Waiters and Irving in the fourth quarter.

Between the 11:29 and 3:34 marks of the fourth quarter, Waiters was Cleveland's go-to scorer. The sixth man had nine clutch points in the time span as he knocked down step-back jumpers as if they were no big deal.

His final three-pointer left the Cavs trailing 109-104 with 3:34 remaining in the game, and it was then that Irving morphed into his familiarly unstoppable late-game self.

Irving hit a huge three off of a Tristan Thompson assist to make the score 116-111 with 1:04 left in the game. He then drove the lane, made a layup, and drew a colossal foul that allowed the Cavs to make it a two-point game as he hit the free throw with 33 seconds left.

Tristan Thompson played outstanding defense on LaMarcus Aldridge on the ensuing possession, forcing a missed shot that Varejao promptly rebounded. Irving then attacked the rim and made the aforementioned tremendous assist in the post for the game-tying layup with 7 seconds left.

The rest was history as Lillard etched his name further into the NBA history books. Irving did have a chance to tie the game with .04 remaining on the clock after Lillard's three, but it was slightly off.

So, the Cavaliers barely lost to the team with the best record in the NBA and were able to weather the storm that was Lillard's performance and stay in contention. A loss is a loss, but it was encouraging.

Aldridge established that he was the best post presence on the floor, but it was not in debilitating fashion. He recorded 26 points, 15 rebounds, and four assists in the game. Thompson, who was matched up against him for most of the game, performed well as the two Texas products battled on the block. He had 15 points, seven rebounds, and the most essential defensive stand of the game against Aldridge.

Andrew Bynum also performed well with 13 points, nine boards, and two steals in 27 minutes of play. The Cavs roster was running at its most efficient level of the season as everything seemed to fall into place. Jarrett Jack, except for a pair of big missed layups, played well off the bench. Waiters was great, and Varejao, Earl Clark, and Matthew Dellavedova were all clutch. Irving ended up with 25 points, 10 assists, and a steal, but got out-gunned by Lillard.

The Blazers earned the win in their signature fashion by hitting 15 of 33 three-point attempts and utilizing a balanced scoring attack. They have the best record in the NBA for a reason.

The Cavs missed out on a chance to secure their sixth win in the last eight games, and Irving definitely got out-performed. But it's obvious that this team is starting to take form, and Cleveland is in the right conference to make a run in the standings.

Alex Marcheschi is a senior at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University who regularly watches the Cavs on FSN Ohio. Get buckets.

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