CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cavaliers big man Larry Nance Jr. made his fourth start of the season Friday night, and while he tied a season-low with four points, he still found ways to be impactful.
With Kevin Love out sick, Nance helped make an imprint against Orlando. He grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds and tallied one block in the Cavs’ 93-87 loss to the Magic.
An improved shooter, Nance had made a 3-pointer in each of the past seven games. That streak stopped against the Magic, as Nance shot 0-of-3 from deep. He also shot a season-low 20% from the field.
Nance’s toughness on defense, though, was one of the defining parts of his game Friday night. During one play near the end of the game, Nance came over to help on Evan Fournier. He blocked Fournier’s shot out of bounds and prevented an easy basket.
The block was emblematic of the Cavs’ hustle throughout the game, and it was also indicative of how hard Nance plays no matter how many points he’s scoring.
“Just (a) gritty, tough winner,” coach John Beilein said. “That’s all you can see, even when the ball wasn’t going in. When he isn’t doing well on offense, he will take it out on his defender and come out and play better (defense). Some people won’t do that. If the offense isn’t clicking, they’re still thinking about it at the other end. Larry is just such a key part of this team, of this culture, of our future.”
Nance is one of the most athletic players on the team, and that athleticism helps him be a versatile defender. According to NBA.com stats, Nance had seven defensive box outs, second-most on the team behind Tristan Thompson. He also had a deflection and contested six shots.
“Defensively, he can guard one through four, which helps us a lot, and we saw it tonight,” Cedi Osman said.
Nance has had quality performances in each of his starts this season. He’s proven to be a player who can contribute on offense, whether it’s scoring, grabbing rebounds or making plays for others. In his four starts, Nance has averaged 12.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He had a season-high 20 points in one of those starts, when the Cavs lost 108-106 against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 25.
Nance’s production on the boards has been key for the Cavs, who rank 21st in rebounds per game. For the season, Nance is averaging 7.6 rebounds a game, the second-highest average of his career.
Love is the Cavs’ top rebounder this season, so whenever he’s not available, it’s imperative the Cavs have the rest of their quality rebounders like Nance and Thompson contribute. Thompson and Nance are ranked second and third, respectively, for rebounds per game.
As the Cavs prepare for the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, they’ll need Nance’s rebounding and defense again, whether Love plays or not. The Sixers, one of the biggest teams in the NBA, rank ninth in rebounds per game (46.2).