When asked after Friday night’s 115-109 victory over the New York Knicks about what has been the key to this mild success, head coach Byron Scott said an improving defense has been the secret ingredient.
“That’s a great win for us,” Scott said. “I thought our guys are really starting to buy in to what we are talking about, especially defensively, and we’ve gotten much better at that end of the floor, and we are just going to keep trying to improve there.”
But amidst a rebuilding year when the Cavs were on pace for setting historic lows for defensive ineptitude, and after a game where the Knicks still scored 109 points at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, has this really been the case?
Let’s take a look at what the Cavaliers have done on average in wins in losses since their past win against the New York Knicks, dating back to Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010, at the Q. Here are the main offensive and defensive stats for Cleveland in these contests:
4 Wins: 107.7 off efficiency to 101.8 def efficiency (+5.9)
100.2 possessions per 48 minutes, 30.6 off reb. rate, 72.2 def reb. rate
53.7% offensive true shooting, 52.0% defensive true shooting
28 Losses: 99.7 off efficiency to 113.7 def efficiency (-14.0)
95.7 possessions per 48 minutes, 24.1 off reb. rate, 70.5 def reb. rate
52.0% offensive true shooting, 57.4% defensive true shooting
Some of the trends in these games are pretty simple to understand: A) When Cleveland loses, they lose by gigantic margins hence the -14.0 efficiency diff, B) The Cavs are awful at defending threes, and that usually shows up in big losses, C) The offensive rebounding rate is much improved in wins, and that’s generally the NBA case, D) Since the four wins are against the Knicks (twice), Clippers and Lakers, the pace is notably higher, and E) It says a lot when the Cavs are 2-0 in overtime games during this awful stretch.
So the keys to success for the Cavaliers have been defending the three point line, attempting to play into that high-paced offense to inhibit offensive success since our defense generally can’t force stops, and grabbing more offensive rebounds. Those all were on display against the Knicks, and almost do play into the coach’s comments from Friday.
Scott said the team simplified defensive strategies three or four weeks ago during the historic losing stretch and that has resulted in increased intensity, aggression, and focus on that end. He said his Cavs still have their inconsistencies on the defensive glass – as evidenced by the 22 offensive rebounds for the Houston Rockets Wednesday night – but had a more complete effort against the Knicks.
Certain to help defensively and on the glass in the remainder of the second half will be the addition of big men Semih Erden and Luke Harangody. Current center Ryan Hollins has been much maligned for his defensive limitations, and any additional bodies should be a big assistance there.
Into the future, the Cavaliers will also need to rely on continued contributions from J.J. Hickson and Ramon Sessions defensively, as both can be pests on that end along with their recent hot play offensively. Sure, the wins will likely be more plentiful in the final seven weeks of the season, but the key will be to find the reasons for such success and build around that starting next season.
(Photo above via AP Photo/Tony Dejak)