Before the All-Star break, mostly under the direction of David Blatt, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense allowed 101.1 points per 100 possessions, seventh best in the NBA (via NBA.com).
Since the All-Star Break, the Cavaliers have given up 104.7 points per 100 possessions, 11th in the NBA. In the last 10 games things have been much worse, allowing 108.4 points per 100, 18th in the NBA. It’s the main reason the Cavaliers have not looked like a title team.
It’s the main reason the Cavaliers have not looked like a title team of late.
Coach Tyronn Lue took the blame for it, speaking to Joe Vardon at Cleveland.com:
“I take full blame for that,” Lue said. “We’re trying to do some different things and now we just got to get back to the basics and get back to our foundation.”
Lue said there is time to reconstruct the defense because what they’re returning to they “did it all last year.”
“We did it the first half of this season and it’s just getting back to the basics and doing what we’re accustomed to doing,” Lue said.
What Lue did on defense was directly connected to what he wanted to do on offense — play smaller and faster. Part of that was pressure on defense and forcing turnovers, so he had his guards try to be more aggressive and fight over the top of pick-and-rolls more (or, at least, come out higher if they went under on a non-shooter). The problem is that requires someone anchoring the middle to take away drives when the offensive player gets by those more aggressive guards, and it requires quick help recognition to help the helper in the paint (to stop back cuts and lobs). None of that help in the middle was happening consistently, leading to too many easy looks for opponents.
Both All-Star weekend and within the last month, I have asked Lue about how it is going trying to install what he wants for the Cavaliers on both ends, and both times the answers were that he just did not have the time to put things in properly. He said he needed a training camp. NBA teams don’t practice that much, and it’s hard to install significant changes midseason. Lue may be able to put this stuff in next fall, but for this season he’s decided it’s a lost cause.
Which will likely be good for the Cavaliers short term.