Last week in the film room, we looked at Andrew Bynum’s recent big contributions. As always, if you have suggestions for a topic, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, we’re going to finally dive into Mike Brown’s defensive system and how well the Cavaliers are adopting it through the first quarter of the season. We’re going to focus on Saturday night’s home win against the Clippers for this effort. The Cavaliers won 88-82, allowing the Clips to shoot just 32% as they attempted 35 three pointers. Here, we’ll touch on just a couple things that I like to see with Brown’s defense, as this will be a recurring theme that we’ll visit plenty throughout the season in slightly different formats.
We start off with Chris Paul at the top of the key, guarded by Kyrie Irving, entering the ball into Blake Griffin, covered by Tristan Thompson. The first thing I enjoy seeing is Tristan attempting to deny the ball into Griffin. Far too often, we see the defender just allow the ball to get entered there. Sure, Griffin isn’t a good shooter, but the first step in any power move that he has is getting the ball entered.
Blake does get the ball passed into him below. C.J. Miles is in the nearside corner, and he’s up on Jared Dudley preventing an easy kick to the corner where Dudley can most certainly knock down that shot.
After the pass, Paul cuts through the paint and gets the ball back in the corner. Griffin moves to start pick and roll action with the other three Clips spaced out of the way on the right side.
Here’s probably the most consistently visible staple of Mike Brown’s defensive philosophy. Big men MUST show on pick and roll action, and it’s a strong show. Brown trusts his power forwards and centers to switch if necessary with the tradeoff that they prevent dribble penetration and force them to settle for a jumpshot.
Thompson shows in a big way, completely giving up the angle to the basket because he has helpside defenders in the recovering Irving, Gee in the top half of the paint, and Miles at the bottom of the key. Paul’s options are more limited in the corner, and Double T is determined to keep him there.
Paul stubbornly tries to body through Thompson and then throw a reversal pass to Willie Green. Thompson’s length causes a deflection and a pop fly that he grabs to start a fastbreak down to the other end.
The Cavaliers do a fairly good job of running off turnovers, but they need to force it even more as their personnel is often catered to that exact notion.
Here, we see a closeout by Miles on Jared Dudley on the very next possession in the third quarter. Miles closes out a little too frantically, and it allows Dudley to slip by.
Alonzo Gee, however, notices this and steps up wide to stop Dudley’s advance. As a result, Bynum needs to rotate over, Tristan needs to rotate down, and Kyrie needs to split the difference between Paul and Griffin.
Before that even has to play out, though, Gee pokes the ball away as Dudley is going past him. He saves the ball ahead to Kyrie Irving.
Dudley stops Irving, and probably thinks that he stops the greatest transition threat. He’s right, but it doesn’t stop the up-tempo Cavs streak to the goal.
Boy, when the Cavaliers run, they are just so hard to stop. Kyrie tosses it ahead to, yes, Tristan Thompson. Thompson takes 3 or 4 confident dribbles in the open court.1
Because BOTH Thompson and Bynum chose to run hard up the floor, it opens up high-low action. Tristan lobs it to Bynum who slams it home.
Finally, you remember that little flop-fest scuffle at the end of the game between Blake Griffin and Anderson Varejao? Well, you can see where it started on plays like the one below a few minutes before where Andy didn’t give Griffin the breathing room that he is accustomed to with his broad shoulders and physical play. Jamal Crawford sets a screen for Griffin, but Andy uses his hips, keeping his hands out of the equation, and fights through it.
Varejao stays super-glued to Griffin, shoving him out to the elbow.
Blake catches the ball, makes a move to the corner, and tries to go baseline on Andy.
Varejao takes a couple of body blows, but he stays bodied up with Griffin.
All of that banging forces a hurried quick-shot by Griffin under the hoop, and he misses it. Griffin was just 3-for-12 for 10 points in this game, his season low and only the third game all season he was held below 15 points.
Below is a shot chart from the Clippers for the evening. They connected on just 7-of-35 threes, and they only had 32 points in the paint.
It does bring up the one weakness in Mike Brown’s system, even when it’s humming like a dream: three-point defense. Brown stresses preventing dribble penetration, second chances, and points in the paint at the cost of some open looks in the corner and on the wing. At its best, Brown’s system still closes out and gets a hand in or near the shooter’s face, but the fact remains that a really good three-point shooting team (like, say, the 2009 Orlando Magic) can beat the system.
The Clippers cashed in 19 free throws and 20 fastbreak points. What does that mean? It means the Cavaliers gave up 43 points in the halfcourt to the Clippers, the 8th best team in both offensive rating and effective field goal percentage. In the last seven home games, they’ve allowed 98 points or fewer, and they’ve held the likes of the Clippers (82, 103.3 PPG) and Nuggets (88, 102.6 PPG) well below their averages. Sure, the offense has been better, but it’s the consistent presence of their defense that has allowed the Cavs to win four out of five and start to turn the season around.
Until next time, the film room is closed!
- Truth be told, I feel way more comfortable when Tristan’s dribbling the ball than when Earl Clark or Alonzo Gee are doing so. [↩]