CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cavaliers have few good on-ball defenders, but on Thursday night against Toronto, they got most of their top defenders on the floor to begin the fourth quarter.
Kevin Porter Jr., Larry Nance Jr., Alfonzo McKinnie and John Henson pride themselves on locking up their opponents. Those four, along with Darius Garland, were the reason the Cavs surged in the fourth and had a chance to beat the defending champion Raptors.
With their offensive execution lacking down the stretch, the Cavs didn’t pull out the win, losing 115-109. But their energy defensively, specifically from that lineup, was encouraging.
The Cavs were down by 12 heading into the fourth, and by the time Kevin Love came in for Henson, the lead was cut to six with 8:15 left.
“I think that’s probably, all those guys, one of the reasons they’re playing in the NBA,” Cavs coach John Beilein said of the quartet, “because they have a defensive mindset. I wouldn’t say any of them are in the league because they’re super scorers. That they guard people. They know that they’re not going to play very long in the NBA if they’re not good defenders, and so they have a lot of pride in it.”
The group held the Raptors to four points before Henson came out, and the Cavs had scored 10 of their own by that point.
Though rookies Porter and Garland have the potential to be good scorers, it’s too early to tell what the full scope of their career will be. Among Nance, Henson and McKinnie, Henson is the only player to have averaged double figures in scoring for a season; the only time he did that was during the 2013-14 campaign.
The lineup was productive offensively for the brief time it was used. According to NBA.com stats, the group played 6.6 minutes together and scored 11 points. It was the fifth-highest scoring lineup of the game among 10 different lineup combinations. The lineup also shot 2-of-4 from the 3-point line and grabbed eight rebounds.
With the Cavs lacking size, that’s one of the biggest lineups they can put out, with Garland being the only one below 6-foot-4. That size helps the Cavs match up well and be in position to earn stops.
“We just get up and down,” Porter said. “That group is – every position is kind of skilled. We’re all fast, we’re all athletic. Our defense and our rotations kind of help. With that group we have more of an advantage because we can switch, we can do a whole lot with that group.”
The Cavs have rim protection covered in that lineup because of Henson. If a player comes through the lane, he rotates to the ball well to contest shots.
As seen in the video below, Henson is skilled at positioning himself for blocks. When Norman Powell came down the lane, Henson angled his body to Powell’s and blocked the shot as it went up. Henson leads the Cavs in blocks at 1.1 per game.
From there, the perimeter is covered with Porter, McKinnie and Nance. They each have the length, quickness and athleticism to stick with most players.
“I really like that group because it’s always defense first, and offense is going to generate itself,” Porter said.
With the Cavs searching for more consistency on defense, perhaps using this lineup more often could help solve those problems.
The Cavs will play the third game of their four-game homestand Saturday against the Golden State Warriors at 8 p.m.