Cleveland Cavaliers Are Making Their Defensive Mark
The Cleveland Cavaliers have begun their championship defense perfectly by locking down their first three opponents.
Following their historic triumph last June, it would have been easy and expected for the Cleveland Cavaliers to start the season slowly.
However, this has not been the case.
Despite dealing with the distraction of the ring ceremony and the fairy tale playoff run of the Cleveland Indians, the Cavaliers have continued on their merry way this season.
The emotion of the ring ceremony and raising the city’s first championship banner in 52 years could have potentially caused the Cavs to come out flat, as they did in the home opener two years ago.
What ensued was a 29-point drubbing as the champions flexed their muscle on a team that considers themselves as a “super-team” in the New York Knicks.
Cleveland is currently 3-0 with wins against Toronto, New York and Orlando. The most impressive part of the three outings has been the team’s defense.
Over the first two seasons of the “Big Three” era, the Cavaliers have not always been stellar on the defensive end of the floor.
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Last season, the Cavaliers were one of the best teams in points allowed, allowing opponents just 98.3 points per game, good for fourth in the league.
However, in terms of field goal percentage allowed, the Cavs were simply a middling team, ranking 14th in the league.
Cavalier opponents throughout 2015-16 shot 44.7 percent against them, just 0.4 percent below their season averages.
Cleveland’s defensive rating of 102.3 also showed them as a middle of the range defensive team, ranked 10th overall. This figure was an improvement from the team’s first year together where they ranked an unimpressive 20th with a defensive rating of 104.1.
So far this season, the Cavaliers have improved on all three metrics.
The Cavs’ first three opponents have averaged just 92.7 points per game while shooting just 40.2 percent from the field.
While it is certainly still very early in the season, the Cavs rank first (Editor’s note: in a tie with the Miami Heat!) in terms of defensive field goal percentage.
Overall, the Cavs’ opponents are shooting 2.5 percent less than their usual shooting percentages.
Cleveland’s defensive rating also shows their improved defense. The Cavs’ mark of 92.0 is good for second in the league, behind Atlanta, whose numbers are bolstered by a game against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers.
The Cavs have done well to firstly run opponents off the three-point line, illustrated by opponents shooting just 27.2 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.
When they run their opponents off the arc, the Cavs’ defense is doing well retreating inside, restricting the opponents to just 44.2 percent on all two-point shots, 3.6 percent below their average.
So why are the Cavaliers better on the defensive end?
The Cavs appear to be communicating with each other on the defensive end better than ever before. This is expected, given that this is now year three of this iteration of this version of the team.
Addtionally, players who have not been known to be defensive players throughout their careers such as Kevin Love, are playing career-best defense.
Love, who famously had “The Stop” on Stephen Curry in Game 7 of last year’s NBA Finals, has come into the season in arguably the best shape of his career. He has shown an improved ability to move his feet and stay in front of his man, especially when switched out onto smaller guards in pick-and-roll situations.
Given that last year’s best defensive rating was the San Antonio Spurs’ mark of 96.6, it’s unlikely that the Cavaliers maintain their extraordinary mark.
However, improving on their defense is a way for the Cavs to take yet another step towards being a better team.
Do you see a major difference in the way the Cleveland Cavaliers are defending this season versus last season? Let us know in the comments section or Twitter @KJG_NBA.