As the Cleveland Cavaliers approach the end of the regular season, head coach David Blatt is taking the opportunity to get some of his starters some rest for what hopes to be a long playoff run. Over the course of the next week while these players are resting, Cleveland Sports Zone will examine some key components as the Cavaliers head into the playoffs.
The first of the key components is the team’s defense, which has been much improved over the second half of the season. With a potential first round matchup with Boston, Brooklyn or Indiana on the horizon, each one of those teams presents a different type of offensive dynamic (more so Brooklyn and Indiana) that the Cavaliers will have to develop a solid defensive plan around in order to make it to round two.
On the season, the Cavaliers are currently No. 11 in the NBA in points allowed—giving up 98.3 to their opponents. One of the main reasons the Cavaliers were able to make such a leap on the defensive end was the shrewd wheeling and dealing done by GM David Griffin.
The team went out and acquired a rim protector in Timofey Mozgov, and brought in two players who have certainly stepped up the defensive intensity in J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Smith and Shumpert are Nos. 3 and 4 in steals on the team, while Mozgov came in and took the team lead in blocks.
Essentially turning Dion Waiters, spare parts and draft picks into three major contributors was a work of magic in its own right by Griffin. But people are not giving Blatt enough credit for getting the most out of the trio since their arrival in Cleveland.
Smith—who admittedly has said he is able to focus more on basketball since his arrival—has been one of the biggest turnarounds. Seemingly on his way to a down year in what was probably his last with the Knicks, the shooting guard has been revitalized on both ends of the court since joining the Cavaliers.
He has averaged 1.5 steals per game (up from .8 in New York), grabbed three defensive rebounds per game (up from 2.3 in New York) and increased every offensive category. The buy-in Smith has shown in Blatt’s system since arriving in Cleveland has been nothing short of a miracle, and one of the true catalysts of the second half surge by the Cavaliers.
Though many will key in on what LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love need to do in the playoffs on both ends of the court to win—fans should not forget about what Mozgov, Smith and Shumpert have meant to the team since their arrival. And if the Cavaliers are going to cruise past their first-round opponent (whomever it is), they will need the best out of these guys in order to succeed.