After beginning the season 0-2, the Cleveland Cavaliers ripped off impressive back-to-back wins against playoff contenders in the Hawks and Nuggets. Led by youth and scrappiness, the Cavs’ effort intensified on the defensive end leading to some much-needed wins. In only four games, Cleveland is showing some improvement this season and looks like an improved team with better talent.
Throughout the offseason, individuals, including unanimous executives or GMs within the NBA, chirped the Cavaliers could be very difficult to score on this season. In contrast, the perimeter defense was far too porous across the first two games, leading to bad defense. In the blink of an eye, Cleveland completely flipped their defense around in their back-to-back wins.
The Cavs swarmed two good offenses
After allowing 132 points to the Grizzlies and 123 points to the Hornets, the Cavs were allowing over 127 points per game in only two games. It looked like things would not get any better with the Hawks and Nuggets upcoming, two teams who ranked in the top nine of offensive efficiency last season. The Wine and Gold flipped that notion on its head holding the Hawks to 95 points and the Nuggets to 87.
This was not due to both games being played at a slow pace or being simply lucky. Cleveland held Atlanta to 38.4% shooting from the floor and Denver to 40.7%. Furthermore, the Cavaliers limited both teams to under 30% from three. So what led to these dramatic improvements on the defensive end?
The effort across the defense was much better, particularly in transition. The Grizzlies and Hornets were able to run and get easy buckets at the rim far too often. Lauri Markkanen also improved his defensive efforts vastly after looking like a weak link through two games. He recorded two blocks and one steal versus Atlanta, and four steals and one block in Denver. In addition, the Wine and Gold rebounded much better as a team, which certainly aided the defense. Isaac Okoro was another Cavalier that underperformed on defense to begin the year but changed that quickly. Take a look at this sequence by Okoro in the fourth quarter against the Nuggets.
Isaac Okoro told Austin Rivers TO GET THAT WEAK STUFF OUTTA HERE… X 2️⃣pic.twitter.com/0XV2IqF1CD
— Across The (Mobley) Cavs (@AcrossCavs) October 26, 2021
Jarrett Allen deserves some praise as well with his outstanding hustle all night long in the 99-87 victory over Denver. The offense was shaky in the back-to-back wins, but the defense carried the day. There are several areas the Cavs must improve in sooner rather than later.
Cleveland needs to perform better in several areas
The offense for Cleveland was quite good over the first two games. Passes were crisp and quick leading to a lot of open looks. That level of ball movement has dipped a little bit over the last two games. Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio have still done a good job of setting up their teammates. The ball is just sticking a little longer, leading to more shots coming late in the shot clock. The ball movement still has been good, but that is one area they can be better in as seen in the first two contests.
Now for the areas that are of the highest concern. While the rebounding has been better, too many offensive rebounds are being allowed right now. The Cavs gave up 17 offensive rebounds to Atlanta and double-digit offensive boards to every opponent so far. Cleveland cannot allow that many second chances, especially when they are playing Allen, Markkanen and Evan Mobley together pretty often.
The last area that has to be better is Cleveland’s three-point shooting. In the Cavaliers’ back-to-back wins, they shot under 30% from beyond the arc. Many have been good looks as well, being lightly-contested or wide-open. Players like Sexton and Garland are capable of being more efficient than they have been. Also, Markkanen was primarily signed to be a three-point shooting, yet he is currently at a career-low of 26.9% from three after being a 40% three-point shooter last season. Going back to Garland, he has to shoot better than his 30.8% from three at this point in the season. If the Cavs cannot start knocking down more outside shots, defenses are going to start condensing the paint even more since Allen and Mobley are playing so well.
There is certainly a lot of hope around the Cavaliers right now after back-to-back wins against playoff-caliber squads. Cleveland’s path will get no easier with the Clippers, Lakers, Suns and Hornets all coming up on their five-game road trip. The Cavs have to clean up these areas and continue to play good defense if they are to win some of these upcoming difficult challenges.
Featured image courtesy of Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports
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