CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – In two of their past three games, the Cleveland Cavaliers have held their opponent under 100 points. The only two times they had done that prior came in their first two contests of the season.
After their latest defensive showing, Head Coach Tyronn Lue shared the team’s game plan: go back to what works.
All through training camp, Lue and his staff had their defense switching any pick-and-roll that did not involve the center, who would blitz the ball-handler before recovering to his man. That was likely to keep Kevin Love, the center for the majority of the season to date, out of mismatches against guards.
Between Derrick Rose’s injuries and Dwyane Wade’s move to the bench, Tristan Thompson was forced into the lineup, thus moving Love back to the power forward. With Thompson playing the five but being a better defender of guards, the ‘switch one-through-four, blitz the five’ approach needed tweaking.
With Thompson out of the lineup since November 1, Love is back at center, with Jae Crowder at the four. The Cavs have since won 9 of 11.
“It kind of just changed everything,” Lue said of going back to his plan. “With seven new guys, I think they were trying to learn two different things. We kind of went back to what was comfortable for us, when Jae was at the four and Kevin was at the five when Tristan got hurt. So a little more consistency from that standpoint.”
That game plan seemed to save Lue’s gang on Friday in a 100-99 win over the Charlotte Hornets because of its effect on All-Star guard Kemba Walker. The six-year pro struggled to a 6-for-21 night, including 2-for-11 from 3-point range and a miss on a potential game-winner.
Lue employed a strategy of using bigger players like Jeff Green to harass Walker, along with the blitzing on pick-and-roll opportunities with Walker and Dwight Howard.
“I think he’s the toughest pick-and-roll guy in the league, I think they said, numbers wise,” Lue said. “It’s a tough cover, so we wanted to try and get it out of his hands, and I thought by us blitzing him and him trying to dribble around the blitz and split, he got a little bit worn down, a little bit tired. The shots he usually makes, he missed because I think the blitz really wore him down.”
Those blitzes mostly came from Love, who was tasked with battling with one of the most physically gifted centers in the game’s history in Howard. The former top overall pick led his team on an efficient 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, as well as 13 rebounds.
Howard got his numbers, but pairing the former All-Star with fellow seven-footer Cody Zeller, the Hornets joined the Los Angeles Clippers in being unsuccessful at trying to outsize the undersized Cavs front-court.
Love still received praise from his head coach despite his own admittance that he is outsized down low against the likes of Howard, Zeller and DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers.
“I think more than anything, I’m trying to make it tough on those guys down there,” Love said. “I know Dwight has been playing great basketball. You know and I’ve had to go up against a number of really good centers, and it doesn’t get any easier on Monday going against (Joel) Embiid, then (Hassan) Whiteside I believe the next night. Just trying to make it tough on those guys so I can trust in my teammates that if I get in a bad way, they can help me out.”