CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – There was legitimately nowhere to go for the Cleveland Cavaliers defense but up, and luckily the ascent has begun relatively quickly.
The wine and gold, now 10-7 on the season, held the albeit fatigued Detroit Pistons to a season-best 88 points on Monday night in Michigan. Among a string of games where the worst defensive team in the league had held their opponents under 110 points in regulation, it was the first sub-100 game defensively for Cleveland in exactly a month.
During their five-game win streak, the Cavaliers are down from a defensive rating of 110 to 100.8, good enough for 8th in the league over that stretch.
The team is obviously clicking defensively, putting themselves in a position to not have to bludgeon opponents outright offensively. With Isaiah Thomas on the cusp of returning, they may just do that, though it will come with a step back defensively.
Against the Pistons, Cleveland executed a game plan of blitzing Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson on pick and rolls to the tune of Drummond’s worst game of the season scoring and rebounding.
Offensive execution by the Cavaliers nailed down Drummond not having to play more than 25 minutes in a game that was over before the 3rd quarter ended. Defensive execution sucked the life out of the Pistons before it even got started.
The defensive uptick has come without both Derrick Rose and Tristan Thompson, and while Thompson’s numbers do not indicate anything other than a team improvement in his absence, Rose’s on-court/off-court numbers are gaudy enough to draw conclusions from.
Even when healthy, the wine and gold saw a dramatic improvement in their defensive rating without Rose on the court, jumping from 110.2 points per 100 possessions to 122.8 with him on.
Despite the better play without Rose, albeit a small sample size, Lue said he does not plan to change his usage of the 29-year-old when he returns.
“Not really. I mean, we still really miss a true point guard,” Lue said. “It’s hard trying to just mix and match, have Jeff (Green) play the point, D-Wade, different guys. We’ve done a good job handling and we know he’s going to be out at least two weeks now, and we’ve got to just continue to keep plugging away.”
Familiarity should help matters in the case of Thompson, but for Rose will only exacerbate his already deep defensive issues.
Speaking of familiarity, the increase in Channing Frye’s minutes have helped matters all around. The Cavaliers are 6.8 points better defensively per 100 possessions with Frye on the court than off, and 16.5 ppp better overall. It is important to note that Frye’s early minutes had been coming in garbage time, which skews metrics.