CLEVELAND, Ohio – Larry Nance Jr. is arguably the only Cavaliers player who can thrive anywhere within a defensive scheme.
A five-year forward out of Wyoming, Nance has been one of the Cavs’ most consistent defenders because of his versatility. On Monday night, Nance was tasked with helping guard Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, along with defending any areas where Gobert and the Jazz attacked.
So, basically everywhere.
Nance’s and the Cavs’ efforts weren’t enough, as Cleveland lost, 126-113, to Utah. Nance nearly had a triple-double, scoring 16 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing eight assists.
With Andre Drummond (calf strain) and Tristan Thompson (knee contusion) out, Nance had the responsibility of being a presence down low, while still being impactful on the perimeter. He finished with two steals, and according to NBA.com stats, he contested a team-high 10 shots.
“Larry, he’s big. Larry is big time,” Collin Sexton said. “He has a lot of plays that don’t show up on the stat book. With him being on the floor tonight, you can really tell that he has impact no matter what.”
During one play in the third quarter, Nance flashed his combination of quickness, intelligence and hustle on defense. The play started with Jazz wing Joe Ingles receiving a high ball screen from Tony Bradley.
Bradley rolled to the hoop, and with Ante Zizic needing help defending the roll, Nance stunted and then burst toward the ball to intercept Ingles’ pass.
The Jazz routinely looked to attack the second level of the Cavs’ defense, whether to kick the ball out for a jumper or look for an easy bucket inside. Gobert forced the Cavs into some tough decisions defensively, eating up the paint for the shooters to have space.
“I think we’ve talked a lot about spacing and playing with the pass, and it was good to see us get out in transition,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “A lot of the passing was for catch-and-shoot threes, and I thought we did a good job attacking the rim to generate some of that, too.”
Gobert scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The Jazz shot 48.8% from the 3-point line and scored 48 points in the paint.
“Some of it, trying to keep a body on a body and take the rollout when we had our versatile group, our twos, threes and fours to start with,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “If you put Larry at that four, just switch and keeping guys in front of us. Things that we’ve done in the past.”
With Gobert hogging the middle, matchup issues were bound to happen, especially because Nance might need to pick up someone on the perimeter. The play below at 14 seconds is a good example of how Nance had to come inside to help. Cedi Osman was stuck on Gobert, and Love was briefly cheating off Bojan Bogdanovic; Nance was on Ingles.
Ingles swung the ball to Royce O’Neale, who then passed to Bogdanovic. Since Osman was still stuck on Gobert, Nance had to assist in potentially blowing up the play, but Gobert dunked the ball.
Though a versatile defender, Nance is more effective in the Cavs’ scheme with at least Drummond or Thompson in the paint to eat up space. If one of those two are in, Nance can focus on his strengths of helping, recovering and containing an area. He and Kevin Porter Jr. are tied for fourth on the team in steals (0.9).
“Those guys have that presence in the paint that can help you there,” Bickerstaff said of Drummond and Thompson. “When you do get a mismatch, they can come and bring a crowd. Bring some size to it. All those guys that were on the floor tonight, they gave it to us tonight. I give them the credit for trying to get after it and going out and competing like they did.”
The Cavs will continue their homestand Wednesday evening, when they’ll play the Boston Celtics at 7 p.m.