1. The San Antonio Spurs killed the Cleveland Cavaliers from deep in their last matchup. Are the Cavaliers capable of slowing down the Spurs attack from outside in the rematch?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: The only way the Cavaliers can stop the Spurs’ three-point attack is if the Spurs have an off night. Without C.J. Miles. the only above-average wing defender the Cavaliers have available is Luol Deng. And although Dion Waiters will be back in uniform tonight, he doesn’t even begin to solve their problems. Waiters – along with Jarrett Jack, Matthew Dellavedova and Kyrie Irving – really struggles in help-side defense and with keeping track of who has the ball. If the Spurs can get into a groove early and consistently move the ball around the perimiter, then the Cavaliers might be out of this game before the half.
Ian Dougherty, PoundingTheRock.com Staff Writer: To be blunt, no. Cleveland is lacking good perimeter defenders, and I don’t expect them to stick around with guys like Marco Belinelli and Danny Green all game long. But, to be fair, I wouldn’t expect that of many teams. The Spurs lead the league in team 3FG%, shooting 39 percent on 20 attempts per game. They have shooters at every position, and get them clean catch-and-shoot looks via pick-and-roll with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. So, even if the Cavs were able to press their shooters, that would just give the Spurs already deadly ball-handlers even more room to operate. Keeping them from getting their shots is extremely difficult, and Cleveland just doesn’t have the personnel to do so. They better hope the Spurs have an off night.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: San Antonio is always a threat to go supernova from three, as Miami found out last year in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. They did this against the Cavs in November as well, hitting 67 percent from deep. The main advantage for the Cavs here is that the Spurs’ three-point threats are mostly limited to the guard positions. The Cavs really struggle with stretch fours and small forwards who can hit threes, in particular, and while Boris Diaw is decent at shooting from outside, he’s not the most mobile player by any means, and shouldn’t be a huge issue for the Cavs. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Marco Belinelli will be, however, and unless Dion Waiters has magically gotten quicker in his time off, him, Jack, and Dellavedova are likely going to struggle mightily to defend these guys on the wings.
2. The Cavs have had a lot of success drawing centers away from the basket with Spencer Hawes and Tyler Zeller recently. How can the Spurs’ defense account for these two’s shooting without sacrificing rim protection?
CM: If the Cavaliers can get Hawes and Zeller open looks from 18-feet and beyond, then I think the Cavaliers will be in good position to attack the interior of the San Antonio defense. Tim Duncan is still a solid defender around the rim, but he isn’t as agile as he was in his younger years. If the Cavaliers can pull away Boris Dias and Tiago Splitter from the inside, then the Cavaliers can attack Duncan with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and the returning the Dion Waiters. You can even throw Luol Deng into that mix if you so choose. This three-headed (or four-headed) monster in not always strong in and around the restricted area, but I like their odds if they can isolate Duncan and make him defend onslaught after onslaught.
ID: Even with his greying hair, declining athleticism, and old age, Tim Duncan is still one of, if not the premier, rim-protector in this league. His outstanding ability to alter and block shots allows the other post defender to venture out deeper to effectively defend shooting bigs without giving up any rim-protection. Because of him, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw (who both split time next to Duncan) shouldn’t have any trouble defending Hawes or Zeller on the perimeter. And even when Duncan is out of the game for rest, Splitter is a solid enough rim-protector for stretches, so that shouldn’t be an issue either.
TM: Spencer Hawes destroyed the Grizzlies in the first half of Saturday’s game with outside shooting, because Marc Gasol wasn’t quick enough to adequately defend Hawes/Kyrie pick-n-pops. This led to him hedging towards the perimeter, and the Cavs attacking the Grizzlies with open looks for Tristan Thompson. While Gasol is still probably either the second or third-best defensive center in the league, a lot of this was due to Zach Randolph ball-watching as well. The Spurs won’t have this problem as much, I feel, because Splitter and Duncan are both incredibly mobile and have high IQs on the defensive end. Thompson won’t be able to lose his man floating under the basket that easily, and while Hawes might catch these two once or twice on the PNR, a simple switch to put Duncan on Hawes will be enough to make this play a challenge for Cleveland to run effectively. With Splitter on Thompson, he can camp in the paint and contest both Thompson catching it underneath and any drives to the rim.
3. Outside of the Spurs’ Big Three of Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan; which Spur creates the most matchup problems for the Cavs?
CM: The answer here is Danny Green and don’t be surprised if Green has a big night against the team that cut him when he was the second best player behind LeBron James. The Spurs small forwrad hasn’t had a particularly strong season (his numbers are largely down across the board) but he’s the type of player that can give the Cavaliers defense some serious issues. And when the Cavaliers played the Spurs earlier this season, Green was 6-10 from the field and 5-7 from deep. It doesn’t help that Green gets a high amount of his shots in the flow of the offense as the result of a pass or as a safety valve in the San Antonio. And that’s exactly where the Cavaliers struggle on defense.
ID: Patty Mills, aka Patty Thrills, aka Sir Patrick Thrillingston III. Mills is coming off of the best stretch of his career in February; where he averaged 16.3 PPG with a 59.1 TS% in 23.1 minutes per game off the bench. When Tony Parker went out with injury, Mills stepped into his role of creating offense with his speed and quickness in the pick-and-roll, and took off like a rocket. In the games since Parker’s return, Mills has cooled off a bit, but he may be able to get his against Cleveland. Their point guard defense is weak, and they have no other perimeter defenders that can stay in front of the speedy Mills. There’s no one to prevent him from pulling up or spotting up from deep, as evidenced by his 3-6 shooting display from deep in the first Spurs-Cavs matchup. He should play a fairly large role in the Spurs’ offense, and it’ll be thrilling as always.
TM: The Cav suck at defending elite spot-up shooters, and the Spurs have two of these in Danny Green and Marco Belinelli. I’m going to say it’s Green who will have the bigger night, because he’s going to be out on the floor for longer stretches against the Cavs’ weaker perimeter defenders. He’s going to be the starter, meaning he’ll get looks against notorious spot-up sieve Jarrett Jack for the early parts of the game. I have a lot more faith in Dion and Alonzo Gee defending Marco Belinelli in the corner, but Green does such a great job of floating around the perimeter as the ball moves, and I have a feeling the Cavs are going to lose him regularly when the ball is swung.