The Cavaliers have been pretty average at defending three-pointers this season. They currently rank 16th in the league in opponent three-point percentage, allowing opponents to hit about 36 percent from deep against them. That’s not too terrible. However, against elite three-point shooting teams, the Cavs struggle to defend the three. New Orleans (6th in 3FG%) hit 35 percent against the Cavs. San Antonio (10th) hit 67 percent in their blowout win. The Heat were limited to 21 percent in the first meeting with Cleveland, but hit 38 percent in the second game. And most recently, the Blazers’ top-rated three-point attack hit 46 percent from outside in their 119-116 win over the Cavs on Tuesday. So why can’t the Cavs defend elite three-point shooters?
The main reason is that the Cavs are just terrible decision-makers when it comes to defending three-point shooters. Take Damian Lillard’s first three from Tuesday, a game in which he hit eight threes.
Here, Lillard receives a pass off the inbounds from LaMarcus Aldridge. Kyrie gives up far too much space to begin with, which is mistake number one. However, it’s not all lost. Kyrie can still go under the screen from Aldridge, or over it at this point. Given Lillard’s prowess as a three-point threat, the smart decision would be under, in order to chase Lillard and put pressure on him.
Naturally, that’s not what happens. Kyrie instead fights through the screen he never should have had to deal with in the first place, opening up about five feet of space for Lillard. And with the screen happening at the elbow, Irving isn’t even close to being in position to affect the shot once he gets through the screen.
Here’s an even more hilariously bad decision, from the same game. Off an offensive rebound, Portland runs a Mo Williams/Joel Freeland pick-and-roll. Anthony Bennett guards noted three-point threat Dorell Wright.
So we have Earl Clark guarding Freeland and Jack guarding Williams. Clark hedges the screen, and Freeland rolls to the basket. Here’s where the mistake happens.
Bennett leaves Wright, who’s hitting 39 percent from three this season, to hedge on JOEL FREELAND. Freeland isn’t even close to the basket, and Anderson Varejao is directly behind Bennett to stop a roll even if Freeland gets the ball. I repeat: Anthony Bennett left Dorell Wright wide open to account for a Joel Freeland roll to the hoop. And we wonder how Portland hit 15 threes Tuesday.
Decision-making is a big problem for the Cavs with three-point D. It’s evident in almost every three given up by the team. However, sometimes it’s just physical limitations that burn the Cavs. Here, C.J. Miles is guarding Randy Foye on the near baseline as the Nuggets attempt to set him up with a cross-court pass. You can’t fault Foye for helping here, but the closeout is…..lacking.
This is the big problem for the Cavs. Their defensive system helps them limit the carnage that results from being a bad perimeter D, but most of the players that defend the perimeter for Cleveland just aren’t good at it, and the ones that are (Miles, Alonzo Gee) aren’t athletic enough to truly stop an elite three-point shooting team like Portland or Miami. The Cavs need to get better at decision making, particularly at the point, where Kyrie is still awful at finding his man and fighting through screens. If they do this, maybe this team can move into the good category for 3-point defense. But until that happens, this team will continue to get burned by good three-point shooting, as they did Tuesday night..