CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cavaliers’ Collin Sexton and Darius Garland have had to defend some of the NBA’s top guards this season, and with both of them under 25, it understandably hasn’t been easy.
Add Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams to the laundry list of skilled scorers Sexton and Garland have struggled to defend.
Williams scored a team-high 25 points as the Cavs fell 133-92 to the Clippers on Sunday in the worst home loss in franchise history. In his seventh start of the season, Williams shot 57.1% from the field, grabbed five rebounds and dished three assists.
As young guards, Sexton and Garland are regularly going up against talented players such as Zach LaVine, Luka Doncic and Kemba Walker. The Clippers’ third-leading scorer, Williams has long used his savvy dribbling skills to create space and score. He is averaging 19.3 points per game this season.
“Between him and (Paul) George, they were so good together,” Cavs coach John Beilein said. “Just playing off each other . . . that’s been an issue for us when people have a marquee guy. And they’re not in the ball screen as much. They just take you one-on-one and just play and score over you.”
George scored 22 points as he and Williams shared responsibilities in attacking the Cavs’ defense.
The Cavs usually improve defensively if at least Sexton or Garland is off the floor. Players like Kevin Porter Jr., Dante Exum or Alfonzo McKinnie typically come off the bench and bring that necessary length on the perimeter.
Still, new Cavs center Andre Drummond likes what he sees in Garland and Sexton, particularly from a mental standpoint.
“They’re tough guards, and they’re smart,” Drummond said. “I think it’s just giving them some time to learn the game.”
Drummond noted that he watched eight hours of film on the Cavs in the two days before Sunday’s game. As a solid rim protector, Drummond provides a paint presence the Cavs need. He’s averaging 1.7 blocks per game, which ranks him 10th in the NBA.
He’s had communication with Sexton and Garland about how he wants them to guard the pick-and-roll.
“For them I just tell them to keep coming in the pick-and-roll,” Drummond said. “So when we set a pick-and-roll, I tell ‘em not to just die on the screens, just keep coming and corral them, and I’ll do my best to keep them in front and give them enough time to get back in front of the guard.”
For Sexton and Garland, improving defensively against quality players is simply going to take time. Recognizing an opponent’s tendencies, dribble patterns and sweet spots takes a combination of knowledge and patience.
But for now, there’s not much the young guards can do against premier players like Williams who can create their own shot.
The Cavs will play the Atlanta Hawks at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Wednesday as they look to snap their 12-game home losing streak. The Hawks are the last team the Cavs beat at home, on Dec. 23.