Every now and then you hear someone say “do you”. The meaning is simple enough, despite how overused the phrase is. Be yourself and don’t conform. There is a famous quote about being born an original and don’t die a copy. That applies to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavs tried to copy, if not completely, a little bit of the glitter and glam of the Golden State Warriors and their prolific collection of shooters. No young perimeter shot makers were available so the Cavs brought in 35 year old Kyle Korver who in his prime couldn’t guard my 82 year old grandmother so good luck now. They signed ancient in the knees and ankles Deron Williams (worse defensive rating of all the Cavs this postseason) to match with MIA on defense Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. You reap what you sow. A bunch of in your eye shooters but a horrible collection of defenders, except LeBron James and every now and then Tristan Thompson. James and Thompson are the Cavs defensive baseline. Or their feast to the rest of the team’s famine.
When you want to imitate the scoring of the Warriors, you fall in love with who can put the ball in the hole. The Cavs ignored a few simple facts in attaching this car to the Golden State shot making train.
First, the Warriors scorers are all good defenders. Klay Thompson has length and can guard his position. Draymond Green is probably Defensive Player of the Year. Kevin Durant has had a good defensive season. Steph Curry is their weak link but even he gives max effort. They are all under 30.
Second: During the 2016-17 regular season, the only teams worse than the Cavs at giving up points were lottery teams, anemic D’Antoni- ball, the Wizards and Blazers. The Cavs were 20th in opponent points. Utah was first. Defending shotmakers? The Cavs were 18th, the Warriors were first.
More importantly, the Cavs are lucky. The Cavs, Pacers, Grizzlies, Thunder and Blazers have the worst defensive ratings in the playoffs. Granted the playoffs just started. But those same teams were ridiculously awful at defense in the regular season too. In their series, the Cavs don’t have to step up their game when they play the Pacers who are just as miserable on defense as they are.
Let me put it another way. The defensive rating of the league’s worst teams in 2016-17, the Lakers, 76ers and Suns, is a better defensive rating than the Cavs have now, 115.
In the playoffs, the Cavs are giving up the third most points in the paint (NBA.com/stats). Last year in the playoffs, they gave up the second fewest.
When it comes to opponent points off of turnovers, the Cavs surrender. 21.5 on average. Last year, their 13.5 opponent points off of turnovers was the third fewest.
They are not creating steals, only 6.5 per game. Last year, they averaged 7.8 steals. The Pacers are averaging 10.0 steals a game.
Their defensive rebounding percentage is worse than the team they are playing. Last year, their defensive rebounding percentage was the third best out of all playoff teams.
The Cavs get big leads and then they erase big leads but LeBron James is the ultimate badass. Against a one-star team with a bunch of average pieces, it works. The Cavs will probably win this series in five or six. But a team that has a bunch of offensive weapons like Milwaukee, Toronto, Washington, not to mention the Warriors and Spurs, the Cavs crappy defense is going to get exposed and then all hands on deck will mean LeBron James save us. Save us please.
LeBron is good for 29 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks and 6 turnovers this postseason. His defensive rating is 109. Two years ago, his defensive rating was 99. Last year, it was 100. In fact 109 is the worst defensive rating of his playoff career. It’s a trickle down effect.
The Cavs bench is offense only so no help there. 50% from three, 53% from the field. 5 assists. But 3.5 rebounds a game, no steals, no blocks and a cumulative defensive rating of 122. Garbage. Like no defense at all. Zero. Nada. None. That is how the Cavs give up such big leads.
And so they are here, up 2-0, seemingly on cruise control with a firm grip on the series. The Pacers are mediocre with a great player in Paul George. The Cavs are brilliant offensively with abysmal defense and have stopped giving excuses. The results are a false positive, like staring at the sun through shades. Things are not brighter than they appear, not with missed rotations and assignments and general disinterest.
The Cavs won Game 7 last year because of Kyrie Irving’s last shot, that is what people remember. But this is why they really won a NBA title. Draymond Green. 3-point miss. LeBron block. Steph 3-point brick. Steph 3-point ridiculously awful shot that missed. Steph Curry another miss.
Defense matters. Cliche, yes and totally not sexy. But. Defense matters.
photo via llananba