Cavs say tough 'D' against Horford key in win
CLEVELAND — Following a resounding 116-86 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said that the key to the team getting back into the series has been Tristan Thompson‘s defense on Boston Celtics All-Star Al Horford.
“Tristan has always been great in stepping up and taking the challenge in any series,” Love said. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Tristan because Horford is really the one that makes them go. He can play a little bit of the point forward. He can do a lot of the intangibles that even for their team might not show up on the box score as well. But he did a great job on him tonight, and he’s done a great job on him the last two games.”
With Thompson coming off the bench in Game 1, Horford hit his first seven shot attempts en route to 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting on the night. With Thompson in the starting lineup in Game 2, Horford was limited to 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting.
In Game 3, Horford all but disappeared, scoring seven points on 2-for-4 shooting while Thompson put up 10 points on the other end.
“He’s defended him well,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “I think he’s physical. Al Horford is a perennial All-Star, and they run a lot of sets through him. He’s usually handling the ball at the top of the key, making the dribble handoffs or pick-and-pop, shooting the 3 and posting him. Tristan is the kind of guy who is agile enough to get back on his shot when he pops to put ball pressure on him at the top of the key. Just try to make him uncomfortable. Al is a good player, so he’s going to be able to score, but we just want to make it tough. I think Tristan is the best matchup for him for us to do that.”
Thompson’s defense on Horford mirrored the Cavs’ defensive effort as a team, as they contested 76 percent of the Celtics’ shots in Game 3, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information, compared to just 58 percent on the shots they contested in Games 1 and 2.
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“We saw it on film how the lack of communication was horrible. Basically, it was embarrassing,” Thompson said. “We know with this team. They move the ball a lot, and we’ve got to be prepared to move ball and move bodies. We did that tonight, and we’re going to need that same effort, but probably even more in Game 4.”
It was also LeBron James‘ best defensive performance of the postseason. As a primary defender, he held the Celtics to 2-for-10 shooting and four turnovers and contested eight of those 10 shots, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
“Defense is all about focus and energy,” Kyle Korver said. “And I thought we had both of those things tonight.”
The Celtics shot just 39.2 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from 3 after shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from 3 in Games 1 and 2 combined.
“Just the physicality. Not letting them be comfortable, communicating on screens, things like that,” George Hill said of the change. “From Game 1 and 2 to Game 3, what we did better was when guys did make mistakes, we had teammates there. That extra effort and energy wasn’t there in Game 1 and 2. It cost us a lot of wide-open 3s, and I don’t think they got a lot of those today.”
The Cavs’ defensive turnaround was the first thing that Celtics coach Brad Stevens pointed to when breaking down what went wrong for his team in his postgame news conference.
“We were clearly not the harder-playing, more connected team tonight,” he said. “Cleveland was, and they deserve all the credit for that. I thought they played a great game. They came out and really moved it and were really tough, got into us defensively.”