OAKLAND — It may be time to declare that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense is, indeed, very good.
The Cavs became the lowest-ranked defense (20th in the regular season) to make The Finals since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. Yes, they were improved after making a pair of trades in early January. But they still didn’t reach the level (top 10) achieved by 34 of the 37 last NBA champs.
There was marked improvement in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but still some doubts, considering the level of competition.
And those lingering doubts were erased in the Cavs’ 95-93, overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 2, the first Finals win in franchise history. The Warriors, who ranked second in offensive efficiency in the regular season, scored 93 points on 106 possessions, a rate of less than 90 per 100.
Stephen Curry had what was basically the worst shooting performance of his career. Klay Thompson had a strong start, but shot 5-for-15 after halftime. And nobody else could pick up the slack for the Western Conference champs.
The Warriors shot 8-for-35 (22.9 percent) from 3-point range, their fourth worst mark in 99 games this season. But just as important as the shots they missed from the outside were the shots they didn’t get on the inside.
Only 20 of the Warriors’ 83 shots on Sunday came from the restricted area, down from 31 (of 88) in Game 1.
The Warriors may be the league’s best 3-point shooting team and a three may be worth an additional point, but their shots at the basket still yield more points per attempt than their shots from beyond the arc. Limit their layups and you’re in decent shape defensively.
Timofey Mozgov has been a great rim protector for the Cavs, but for Mozgov to be able to protect the rim, the Cleveland guards have to put in work on the perimeter. If he’s helping them too much, he can’t be the rim protector that he’s supposed to be.
Against any offense, one of the guards’ biggest responsibilities is fighting through screens. Against the Warriors, it obviously becomes more important.
The Cavs’ guards do not want to go under screens set for Curry and Thompson, because that will give the Splash Brothers space to shoot. But if they get caught up in screens, Cleveland’s bigs must commit to the ball and the defense will be compromised.
So Matthew Dellavedova (the primary defender on Curry) and Iman Shumpert (Thompson) have been charged with locking onto their guy, trailing him around the screen, and getting back in front of him as quickly as possible, so that the helping big can recover back to the paint. (more…)