Cavalier Film Room: Team Defense Fueling An Improbable Win

WFNY Cavaliers Film Room

WFNY Cavaliers Film RoomWhen we last were together in the film room, we took a closer look at Kyrie Irving dotting I’s with the help of Double T. It’s been a while and there’s been plenty to talk about during this recent strong play from the Cavaliers. I’m going to keep it current this week, however, and break down some moments from the Cavs’ improbable comeback against the Jazz on Wednesday night. I could go into C.J. Miles’s 12-point fourth, Kyrie Irving’s late offensive surge, or Wayne Ellington’s strong performance. Instead, I’m going to credit the Cavaliers’ defense for getting the key stops and forcing some turnovers to give themselves a shot at the W. Without these critical stops, the offensive surge is just a comeback effort that would’ve come up short. Surprisingly enough too, Kyrie Irving played a starring role in the defensive lockdown. Let’s go to the film.

We’ll start just after Irving checked back into the game, with the Cavs trailing by 12 and 7:26 to play. The next defensive possession for the Cavalier begins with the ball in Mo Williams’s hands. Notice right away that Kyrie Irving is guarding him, meeting him at halfcourt to apply some pressure. This is something we generally only see from Alonzo Gee, but it’s refreshing to see someone else do so.


Mo tries to juke Kyrie every way he can think of, but Irving’s locked on and doesn’t let Williams get a lane to the basket.



Meanwhile, Luke Walton is fronting the larger Paul Millsap in the post, not letting Williams drop it down to them. The post game, after all, is Utah’s primary objective on offense.


Mo eventually gives it up to Millsap on what originally looked like a situation where the big man was planning on setting a pick for Williams to curl around and drive. Irving nearly picks off the bounce pass himself, but Millsap gathers it in with his wingspan and turns to face the bucket. Notice that Luke Walton is right in the mix.


Millsap tries to rip it through and step by Walton at the same time, but in the process, he travels. Kyrie’s attention from behind the play, and Walton’s aggressiveness in turn force Millsap to try to make his move to the basket too quickly.


About a minute later, the Jazz have the ball once more, with Alec Burks feeding it on the right wing to Randy Foye, the ice cold shooter suddenly turned red hot that scorched the Cavs for 11 third quarter points on 4-of-5 shooting. Kyrie is checking him with Millsap in the post, covered by Walton.


Millsap leaves and Derrick Favors flashes to the post. Tristan Thompson and Walton switch defenders and stay where they are. Favors sets a screen left on Irving.


One of the biggest problems with Kyrie’s defense has been his inability to fight over the top of screens. Here, he does a pretty decent job, squeezing through and staying with Foye for the most part.


Favors resets and looks to flash high again for another pick, this time on the baseline side, Foye’s right. Foye uses the screen and dribbles down the right sideline.


Walton hedges to stop the drive, and him and Irving spring a trap on Foye.


Wayne Ellington drops down, and Tristan slides over to account for Favors in the post, but the trap is so strong that Foye doesn’t get a pass away without it being tipped.


Walton grabs it, and he nearly gets it ahead to Ellington for an easy bucket, but the officials blew the whistle for a foul first. Still, it was a great possession and another forced turnover for the Cavaliers.



Thirdly, we look to the defensive possession immediately after the scramble bucket and-one by Kyrie to give the Cavaliers the lead. Gordon Hayward, who absolutely lit the Cavaliers up in this game, looks to force it up the court quickly, but Alonzo Gee picks him up at halfcourt.


Notice here that Kyrie has his eyes on Hayward surging up the sideline. He will eventually leave his man, Williams, to help Gee and make the play. Nothing is worse than a guy beating his man and driving the length of the court for a bucket because no one would leave their man and play good helpside defense.


Kyrie steps in front of Hayward, and he loses his handle on the ball.


Down he goes, and Kyrie gets a gift steal as it lands at his feet as he starts a fastbreak.


2-on-1. Forget about it.


Kyrie passes to Ellington, and he slams it down with authority, giving the Cavaliers a lead they’d never relinquish with 56 seconds to go.


Finally, we take a look at a great 22 seconds of defense from end-to-end in the game’s final minute. The Jazz are trying to get a good look, and the Cavaliers are not letting it happen. The ball starts with Mo Williams, who can’t shake Wayne Ellington. Walton helps show as Mo drives right and quickly recovers.


Foye gets his hands on it with Irving guarding him. Favors starts to set a pick then slips it. Foye drives and spins and backs out, but Irving is attached to him at the hip. It’s very interested and intense defense that we’ve only seen glimpses of in small amounts from the Cavalier All-Star.



Ellington gets in the passing lane, so Mo tries to run a backdoor as Foye bounce passes it to him.


Luke Walton the helpside defender is all over it, though. He gets in front of Mo, while Ellington runs to cover Walton’s original man, Millsap.


Mo’s got nowhere to go, so it’s a release back out to Foye, who starts to drive on Kyrie. Walton sticks his hand in though, and causes Foye to lose the handle on the basketball.


Boom. By the time Foye recovers it underneath the hoop, his right foot is planted on the baseline. Cavs ball.


In all, the Jazz turned it over 15 times in this game, with 5 of those coming in the final quarter. This is nothing new for the Cavaliers, as they rank 3rd in the league in Turnover Percentage (TOV%) at 14.8%. It doesn’t hurt things that they turn it over the 4th fewest in the league as well (13.0%), a big reason why they’ve come on so strong in this season’s second half.

From the moment Kyrie returned with 7:26 to play, the Jazz scored just 15 points and had only 3 made field goals. They did not have a made basket for the final 2:45 of this game as they turned it over two times and missed four field goals. The Cavaliers also were tough on the defensive glass, allowing just 8 offensive rebounds, a big problem for them (27th in NBA in defensive rebounding %). It got them to the line quite a bit in the fourth, where they converted 23-of-29 for the game.

The Cavaliers’ defense has oh so far to go, but it’s nice to see glimpses of some potential they have in slowing teams down a bit when it matters most.

Until next week, the film room is closed!

  • Harv 21

    I don’t know Kirk, I hardly look at these few cherrypicked moments as cause for long-term optimism. Utah missed some shots in the end, including a point-blank lay-up to win, and before then Kyrie’s defense was typically atrocious as Mo shot and passed at will. Utah should have won it without the stops you break down.

    Kyrie certainly has the physical ability to play good defense, unlike guys like Mo, Steve Nash, Mark Price. Will he ever make it a consistent priority so that the team can one day compete for a ring? I think this off-season is key. By his fourth year in the league it will be harder to break bad habit like thinking you can always win on the offensive end.

  • Yup

    Well, it was good fourth qtr. D til they let Mo have a lay-up with seconds left in the game! Haha! Just messin. Good article.

  • Next time I think it would be useful to talk about the team defense from a scheme standpoint. This piece reads like a collection of highlight clips.