CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Larry Nance Jr.’s ascension to the throne of top center of the Cleveland Cavaliers has been slowly bubbling since the legacy returned to town.
The move to Nance in the starting lineup may not hold up through Tristan Thompson’s eventual return, but there is no longer a doubt of who the team’s top big is.
Nance matched his career high in points (18) in the first half of his first start with Cleveland, setting a new mark in the early part of the 3rd against the Detroit Pistons, and finishing with 22. The 23-year old also had a double-double locked up by halftime, finishing with another career-high 15 boards
Normally something never done before would be surprising, but as Nance’s time with the team has built, so has his output. No one should be surprised that the other kid from Akron had a breakout game, not even the kid himself.
“It just felt kind of easy,” he said. “The guys were giving me all the opportunities in the world to make my shots, and I just happened to be making them tonight.”
Nance was effective inside and out, contributing a pair of 18-foot jumpshots that pulled Pistons all-star center Andre Drummond away from the basket. With the game opened up, Nance was able to get to the rim seemingly at will, remaining a pivotal piece in the pick and roll.
Head coach Tyronn Lue admitted to not knowing his new sophomore was capable of stretching things out.
“He never shot it in L.A.,” Lue said, “But coming here and just watching him shoot, he has three-point range also which I didn’t know. If he can continue to make that shot, it helps our offense out tremendously.”
Defensively, Nance’s night with Drummond was no cakewalk, bodying with the 6-foot-11, 279 lb. center, but holding him to 15 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes.
“I just tried to hit first,” Nance said. “A guy like that, any time a shot goes up, he’s trying to wedge you under the basket and stuff like that. So you have to pre-box out, almost. You’ve got to see and anticipate, ‘Alright, the shot’s about to go up. I’ve got to hit him and see if I can root him out before he gets one in.’”
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With Thompson out and Nance into the starting lineup, Lue was sapped of his second-unit energy from Nance, choosing to move starting forward Cedi Osman back to the bench. For the first time, a lineup of LeBron James, George Hill, JR Smith, Rodney Hood and Nance started a game.
It was not all good for the starting unit, who had a +3 net rating in 21:40 of court time together. Considering Nance’s career night an outlier, a net rating of +3 against a reeling Pistons squad may not qualify as championship caliber.
By halftime, the starting unit was a -2 in 13:30 together, with Nance and James contributing 34 of the lineup’s 37 points, the other three attributed to Hood.
The last pair a team may want to see coming to town when down their starting center would be the Pistons’ Drummond and Blake Griffin, averaging a collective 24 rebounds per night.
That did not stop the Cavs, who wound up out-rebounding their opponents, 53-40. The advantage was 41-27 following the 3rd quarter, when James last played.
“We did it by committee,” LeBron said. “It started with me and Larry. Obviously we knew we were going to have to try and do a job on those two big guys they have with Blake and Dre, so it started with us and we did it by committee after that, and it resulted in us getting that win and winning the rebounding battle.”