Brown Determined to Fix Cavs’ Defense
While the Cleveland Cavaliers have assembled a talented young core that features Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett among others in recent years, the organization realized that the team needed to improve their defense in order to take the next step and make the playoffs.
Cleveland’s defense has been one of the worst in the NBA over the last three seasons. Last year, the Cavs ranked 30th in opponent field goal percentage (46.7 percent), 25th in opponent points per game (101.2 points), 26th in point differential (-4.7) and 29th in blocks per game (4.1).
Fed up with the awful defense and ugly records, the Cavaliers fired Byron Scott over the offseason. When the team set out to find their next head coach, their search led them to a familiar face. Mike Brown, who coached the team from 2005 to 2010, landed the job and received a five-year contract.
Brown has earned a reputation as a defensive-oriented coach so he could help the Cavaliers turn things around on that end of that court. While he hasn’t had much time to work with his players, he has already start to put his fingerprints on the team.
“We haven’t worked much on the offensive end of the floor,” Brown said. “It starts culturally. We have to make sure that our culture is right. After you lay that foundation and establish whatever you want culturally, that’s when you can move on to the X’s and O’s. For us, I believe we’ll bode we’ll if we’re a defensive-oriented team. We have to make sure that we get that end of the floor covered. We need to appreciate that end of the floor because when all else fails, we’ll defend.”
“We’re trying to set the tone defensively early in the season,” Irving said. “We want to set a standard for our team going forward. … It’s very different. There’s a lot more attention to detail and a lot longer days, to say the least, but we’re all getting used to it. It’s a mental grind, but we’re all getting through it together.”
All of the players have bought in to Brown’s defense-first mentality. Every member of the organization hopes to break their three-year playoff drought this season, and they understand that improving their defense is a must in order for that to happen.
“It’s good, I think defense wins games and coach believes in that,” Earl Clark said. “We’ve got some young guys who are great defensively and they don’t get enough credit for it. I think if we dig down, come together and play defense, we should have a hell of a season.”
“Everybody is buying in when coach has been stressing defense,” Waiters said. “Defense wins game and I think everybody here knows that. It’s up to us to go out there, play defense, have one another’s back and protect each other. … A lot is different – different style and different coaches. Coach Brown is very detailed in what he wants. It’s very different. Very different.”
“I think when you’re in tune defensively, it makes the offense that much easier,” Jarrett Jack said. “We have guys who are more than capable on the offensive end – guys like Kyrie Irving, who is an All-Star, and Dion Waiters, another blossoming young talent – so offense is the easy part. Defense is the part where you really have to wrestle with guys to get them to buy in. We’re making that priority No. 1.”
As Jack said, offense isn’t an issue for the Cavaliers since they have so many talented scorers on their roster. Instead, more time and energy has been focused on slowing down their opponent’s offense. The Cavaliers spent the majority of training camp working on their defense. During the first two preseason games, Brown sent the message that players who don’t give maximum effort on the defensive end will be taken out of the game.
Following a preseason game against the Orlando Magic on Friday evening, Brown was furious with his team’s defense, particularly in the first half. Throughout the game, he benched a number of players and had many, what he calls, “teaching moments.”
“I don’t care if we’re playing in Orlando, playing in Africa, playing in Europe or playing back at home, the way we played, we should be embarrassed in that first half,” Brown said. “I don’t care if it’s a preseason game, I don’t care if it’s an intrasquad game, we should be embarrassed and need a gut check. I don’t care if we win the game, I don’t care if we score on offense, we cannot play that way anytime we step on the floor. We had a few teaching moments tonight, with a lot of individuals.”
At one point, Brown screamed at Bennett even though he had hit several shots in a row. Brown was frustrated with the No. 1 overall pick because he had taken a play off defensively and allowed his man to score an easy basket. Brown made it clear that he won’t tolerate laziness on the defensive end.
“I took a timeout because he had hit three in a row and was extremely animated, but then he decided to take a play off on the wrong end of the floor,” Brown said. “He let his guy catch in the post and his guy turned to score a basket from half a foot away. … He’s got to remember if he’s going to celebrate and bring energy and all of that stuff, [focus] on defense first and offense second. If he wants to rest, he can rest on the offensive end of the floor, not defensively.”
In the first half, Brown pulled Waiters aside and voiced his displeasure with his shooting guard. Waiters had been the team’s best offensive player, but that didn’t matter to Brown.
“I pulled Dion aside because he gave up a middle drive and he was terrible in pick-and-roll defense,” Brown said. “I told him, ‘Dion you’re playing terrible. You aren’t even playing hard. You’re making shots, but you ain’t playing hard.’ You know what he said to me? He said, ‘Coach, I’m playing as hard as I can!’ So I said, ‘Okay, let’s watch the film at halftime.’ We watched some clips at halftime and I asked him, ‘Are you playing hard? Are you playing as hard as you can?’ He said, ‘No.’ We can do better and play harder.”
As the team makes strides defensively, their confidence is rising. Every player on the team believes that this could be an excellent year.
“I think we can be great,” Clark said. “We’ve got a lot great, young talent and I think once we get Bynum back we’ll be on another level. If everybody stays healthy, we should be a heck of a team this year in the East.”
“We can be really special – it’s all on us,” Irving said. “It’s all on us. It depends on how we want to work and how far we want to take this thing.”