There were multiple players that covered Dwight, but let’s start with Tristan Thompson. I thought Tristan had two of the best 1-on-1 battles with Dwight that evening. Here’s the first of those two. Howard is set up one step off the right block.
Notice that he’s setup outside of the paint. That’s victory number one for Thompson and the Cavaliers. When Dwight catches it with at least one foot in the paint, it’s usually a foregone conclusion that he’s either scoring or going to the foul line.
Dwight catches the pass. Howard’s first move is probably going to have to be toward the middle given the current angle.
Or not. Howard turns toward the baseline side and starts to make his move toward the basket. Notice that Tristan stays in front of him the entire time, not letting Dwight’s shoulders cross his. If they do, it’s over.
Tristan cuts him off, and Howard spins toward the middle. Notice that all five Cavalier defenders have at least one foot in the paint, including Alonzo Gee, who is guarding Kobe Bryant. C.J. Miles is shading over a little to cover Kobe, but the Cavaliers are essentially banking on the fact that Howard is not passing this one back out to Kobe.
Howard spins back right and goes up with the shot. Thompson is directly in his shot line, leaves his feet, and is initially in straight up position.
Tristan follows through, though, and despite getting what looked to be all ball, he’s whistled late for a foul on Howard. I think this was a bailout, and someone not named Dwight Howard doesn’t get this call. That’s why I showed this possession, because more often than not, the Cavaliers play on here and they head the other way.
Here again, we have Dwight setting up just outside the paint near the right block. This is actually the very next Lakers’ offensive possession in the first quarter, so the Lakers like the one-on-one matchup with Thompson.
Metta World Peace cuts through after passing the ball to Howard as Kobe drifts from the top of the key to the right wing. Again, the Lakers are trying to get Howard 1-on-1 with the big man or face leaving Kobe open for a jumpshot.
Gee helps down again as Howard takes it to the middle. Thompson’s in a good wide stance bodying him up.
Howard strolls through the lane and take a contested 8-foot jumper with his momentum falling away to the left side. It doesn’t even matter if the ball went in or not (it didn’t, by the way). Forcing him to take that shot contested instead of a dunk, or a layup, or sending him to the line is a win.
Next, we’ll take a look at how rookie Tyler Zeller fared in a first quarter possession with Howard. Howard’s just off the left block this time, but the setup is familiar with Kobe on the wing.
Zeller’s in good position right now, but watch the mistake he makes when Howard makes his move.
Uh oh. Do you remember that shoulder I talked about earlier? Well, Howard’s about to get it past Zeller, because when Howard made his baseline move, Zeller swung open, staying planted in his spot, rather than mirroring Dwight and taking a step towards the basket to cut him off.
Now, Zeller is at the mercy of Howard and needs help. Dwight’s completely past him, and Zeller’s on his backside, in position only for a foul from behind.
Andy to the rescue! While Howard’s worrying about how to draw contact from Zeller behind him, Andy swoops in and chips the ball out, leading to a Laker turnover.
After that chip on the last dissected play, we’ll finish off with Varejao again, this time covering Howard himself.
This time, Howard does start his move from inside the paint on the right block. Andy’s right up on him, but we’ve seen Dwight overpower Varejao in the past.
As Dwight goes to the middle, Andy cuts him off and prevents it. It’s no question that Varejao is the most instinctive and active defender that the team has. This snapshot shows no reason to refute that.
The best center in the league’s moves are pretty predictable as he pivots back to the right. He’s got a little angle on Andy, but notice that he didn’t get his shoulder past Varejao. That’s a difference between Zeller and Andy’s cases. Gee again drops down to help.
The help from Gee proves it worth. Gee blocks Howard from behind as he goes up with the shot. The ball rockets past the rim to the other side of the backboard.
Unfortunately, the Cavs don’t rebound, and the ball is volleyed from Hill to Howard. Howard grabs the ball, looking to go back up and pull the rim down.
Not this time, it’s hard to see here, but Andy chips the ball out again!
And not here, either! Howard recovers from the Andy rejection, but Alonzo Gee swats it away. Kyrie recovers the ball on the baseline, which leads to a Kyrie made jumper at the other end. This was just one of the plays that helped the Cavaliers rattle off a 23-8 second quarter run to take a sizable lead against L.A. These are the sequences that give me hope for the Cavaliers’ ability to defend. They showed this ability in the games they won last season, timely deflections and chips, led by their two best defenders, Varejao and Gee.
Howard finished the game with 19 points and 20 rebounds, but he did so on 3-of-9 shooting and after 22 trips to the foul line, where he converted 13 for 59% (actually not that bad for him this year). Dwight scored no more than 6 points in any given quarter, forcing Kobe to play over 40 minutes while playing 41 himself. The Lakers made their run at it late on sheer will from Kobe, but the Cavaliers had the fresher legs and the younger players to finish out this banner victory.
Until next week, the film room is closed!