About those defensive struggles … The big question for the Cavs all year, especially in the second half of the season, has been their inability to play consistent defense, particularly in the pick-and-roll. That appeared to be an Achilles heel heading into the playoffs.
But the Cavaliers just suffocated the most pick-and-roll heavy team in the league. Coach Ty Lue had his defense blitzing the play aggressively, taking Toronto out of its comfort zone. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have looked as healthy as they’ve been in a while, and James’ ability to read and cut off the pick-and-roll was a factor in forcing Toronto into poor shots.
Lue had hinted during the season that the Cavs were holding back their best PNR defense, and the way Cleveland handled Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan indicates he was right. The Cavaliers allowed Toronto 0.90 points per possession and 44.4 percent shooting on ballhandler pick-and-rolls against the Raptors, which would put them right in the middle of the pack in postseason rankings. (Against the roll man, they allowed 1.03 points per possession and 48.6 percent shooting, also middle of the pack.) The Cavaliers don’t need to be top-tier against the play, they just need to be decent. And they were.
What they won’t do: Bring back this same group. Doing so would vault them at least $30 million over the luxury tax, for a total bill of something like $250 million. You don’t pay that for a noncontender.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe spoke with the team’s general manager, Masai Ujiri, after Sunday’s loss and came away believing the Raptors won’t be able to retain everyone on the roster. There’s just not enough money to go around to keep stars Lowry and Serge Ibaka along with key contributors such as PJ Tucker and Patrick Patterson.