Tracking the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defensive play through seven games

J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports) /
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The Cleveland Cavaliers stumbled out of the gate, but there’s plenty to be excited about as they sit at a 3-4 record. Donovan Mitchell is tied for the league lead in scoring, while Evan Mobley is tied for fifth in total blocks. The main offseason additions, Max Strus and Georges Niang, are seamless fits. And The Land’s defense has shown signs of being as suffocating as last year despite key guys missing in almost every match.

For now, the Cavs have a defensive rating of 109.9, good enough for the 11th-best defensive rating, while scoring 107. Inside the arc, Cleveland’s defense is superior to all, as other teams log just 48.3 percent of two-point attempts. Given the firepower on offense and another gear left to reach on D, the negative differential will not last.

In Sunday’s win over the Golden State Warriors, the hosts feasted on their rivals’ inability to generate rim pressure and forced 18 possession changes that turned into 11 points off turnovers. The downside is that Cleveland failed to close 17 extra tries that generated as many points.

Let’s review critical areas of the Cavaliers’ defense through seven games.

We’ll begin in the paint.

Protecting the paint

With Jarrett Allen missing five games and with some new wing players brought in, Cleveland’s paint protection could have been a lot worse. Instead, Cleveland’s paint marks are sixth-best in the NBA, permitting 44.9 opponent points in the square.

Switching has been sharp mostly, and Caris LeVert’s length on top of the ball is valuable to slow it down. Defending pick-and-roll in drop coverage, blitzing and forcing handlers to the baseline has worked well for the Cavaliers, too.

A night after getting humiliated at home by the New York Knicks on Halloween, the Cavaliers traveled to Gotham City and got the win in a rematch game. In that one, they stifled their abusers to 40 points in the box on 19.3 percentage points below the average efficiency in the restricted area.

In Sunday’s win over the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland’s backline defenders overwhelmed their visitors, giving up just 24 points in the paint on 37.5 percent shooting.

Although, in seven games, Cleveland had three off nights protecting the paint, in the opener, seeing the Brooklyn Nets and both times facing the Indiana Pacers at home on Oct. 28 and away in the In-Season Tournament on Nov. 3. On those nights, point-of-attack defenders couldn’t stay with the ball and rivals got downhill in transition too many times. Friday night was Allen’s first game back, and his timing was a bit off, missing a chance to deflect a pass over the top and getting scored on one-on-one.