Mears: Is the Cavs’ Defensive Performance in Game 3 Sustainable?

Mears: Is the Cavs’ Defensive Performance in Game 3 Sustainable? article feature image
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Pictured: Tristan Thompson. Photo credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

We all know what LeBron James can do on offense. He is averaging 28.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 11.0 assists per game so far in the Eastern Conference Finals. The problem is that a dynamic offensive performance from the King hasn’t been a surefire recipe for success: In Game 2 he put up 42 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, and the Cavs still easily lost by 13 points.

They need his offense, but they also really need his defense. And when he’s locked in and engaged on that end, the overall ceiling for the Cavs — offensively and defensively — is significantly higher. In Game 3, Boston got nothing going in transition. The Celtics still tried to push the ball (like they have all series), getting semi-transition opportunities on 28.6% of their plays off live rebounds. The problem is they posted a -4.8 per 100 possessions on those plays, which, again, is indicative of the Cavaliers actually getting back on defense and giving adequate effort.

In addition, the Cavs posted 16 deflections versus just eight for the Celtics. For reference, Cleveland ranked 25th this season with 12.8 deflections per game. The Cavs contested 38 two-point shots in Game 3; the Celtics contested just 22. Tristan Thompson and LeBron protected the rim, and Boston shot just 50.0% there, which is in the eighth percentile of all games this season. You get the point: The Cavs’ offense is important and must knock down open shots. But for them to actually take Game 4 and put themselves in a spot to win this series, they’ll need to keep up the defensive pressure. It’s do or die now: Lack of effort just won’t cut it this late in the season.