CLEVELAND, Ohio – With his passing and scoring ability, Atlanta Hawks star guard Trae Young is the type of player the Cavaliers have struggled against all season.
Young can take opponents off the dribble. He can use his handles to create space and shoot jumpers in isolations. He’s one of the best guards in the NBA when it comes to running the pick-and-roll. At times Wednesday, Young was his usual self against the Cavs.
But for the Cavs, a team that’s had trouble defending guards on the perimeter, their defense against Young was effective throughout most of the game.
The Cavs snapped a 12-game home losing streak with their 127-105 win over the Hawks. The NBA’s third-leading scorer, Young scored 27 points – but he shot 28.6% from the 3-point line. Ranked second in the league in assists, Young affected the game more with his passing, finishing with 12 assists.
As the Cavs pressured Young out top, they used a scheme that assistant coaches J.B. Bickerstaff and Antonio Lang led in implementing.
“We didn’t call it a blitz. We called it a string,” coach John Beilein. “We strung out the ball screen just to get it out of his hands, and that really worked well, too. Just to get so Young couldn’t get downhill as often. So he didn’t use a screen a lot of today, just went one-on-one.”
Beilein said Andre Drummond’s block on John Collins to begin the game helped establish the tone defensively. With Drummond and Tristan Thompson helping inside, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland did their part in helping cut off lanes for Young.
Young, who averages 4.9 turnovers a game, totaled four against the Cavs. As one of the league’s top guards, Young presented a difficult task for the Cavs’ defense, particularly because of how he can find his teammates. This is the 21st game that Young has had double-digit assists.
“You might take the ball out of somebody’s hands, but if they have really good passing – that’s why nobody hedges hard or very few hedge hard in the NBA,” Beilein said. “They got good players. It’s 4-on-3 on the backside. We’re not the first people that did that, but I thought we did a great job several times in being in spots to take it away.”
Below is an example of how the Cavs showed multiple layers of defense against Young. Garland initially picked up on him, trying to take up as much space as possible.
Sexton then slightly stunted off Kevin Huerter, and Larry Nance Jr. showed near the elbow in case help was needed. Huerter made the 3-pointer, but that’s the kind of team defense needed to keep Young from scoring easily.
Sexton credits the Cavs’ focus in practice on perimeter defense for their solid performance in that area.
“We talked a lot about it, a lot of coverages,” Sexton said. “We just went out there and we was very disciplined. We didn’t gamble too much on defense. We did what we needed to so we could get the win.”
As the Cavs head into the All-Star break with a much-needed win, perhaps having this performance can give them some confidence in playing better perimeter defense the rest of the season.
The Cavs will play their first game back from the break on the road Feb. 21 against the Washington Wizards.