Aussies in NBA: Delly's defense a key against Lowry
Finally, after over a week off, Matthew Dellavedova and the Cleveland Cavaliers know who they will be facing in the Eastern Conference Finals -- the Toronto Raptors.
In what will ultimately turn out to be a nine-day break, as Game 1 of the series is on Wednesday, the Cavs should be re-energised against a Raptors squad that has been involved in two straight seven-game series.
However, this doesn’t mean Toronto will be a walkover for the Cavaliers. While Cleveland has advantages seemingly all over the floor, one area in which the Raptors may be able to exploit is in the backcourt, where All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be keen to break out of their playoff shooting slumps.
"They're two All-Stars for a reason," LeBron James said about the duo, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. "And that's the reason that they're in the Eastern Conference Finals because they're two All-Stars. They're All-Stars for a reason. They wouldn't be in this position without them."
The way the Cavs defend Lowry and DeRozan will be one of the main deciding factors in the series.
Dellavedova won’t be asked to guard DeRozan a lot, as Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith will most likely share that responsibility. Dellavedova will play a main role in containing Lowry though.
Throughout the regular season, Lowry gave the Cavaliers a number of problems. Primarily guarded by Kyrie Irving, Lowry burned the Cavs to the tune of 31 points and 8.3 assists per game, while shooting an astonishing 66 percent from the floor and 43.8 percent from the three-point line.
This included a 43-point outburst in a 99-97 win over the Cavs back in February, where the problems Lowry causes Cleveland were amplified.
Irving has never been known as a good defender. He isn’t overly quick on his feet, lacks basketball IQ on the defensive end and struggles to stay in front of guards on the perimeter. Against Lowry, a player who predicates his game on plowing his way to the rim, Irving’s defensive shortcomings are exposed to the n-th degree.
This is where Dellavedova could end up playing a huge role in the conference finals.
Last season, the Cavs relied on a gritty and fiery Dellavedova in the conference finals but that was due to the multitude of injuries they had.
In a case of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ though, the Cavaliers will need that same effort and hustle out of Dellavedova against Lowry.
Based on regular season evidence, Irving will have his hands full with Lowry. There isn’t any real reason to believe anything to the contrary, despite Lowry hitting just 36.6 percent of his field goal attempts in the playoffs.
The elements that make Lowry so good -- his bullish body, which allows him to get to the rim and draw contact -- can be counteracted by Dellavedova. In his limited court time in the semifinals, Dellavedova was still able to display the type of hard-nosed defense that he has always played with.
To contain Lowry, you need to be physical with him and frustrate him. You can’t afford to give up easy driving lanes to the basket, where he thrives. Lowry is a pump-fake guy, who uses it to get the basket and Irving struggled mightily against that very move in the regular season match-ups. Even fouling him doesn’t get the job done, as Lowry was an 81.1 percent foul shooter in the regular season.
“We got to make those guys make field goals, not free throws,” coach Tyronn Lue said about the Raptors backcourt tandem, via cavs.com.
Dellavedova brings all the necessary tools on the defensive end to contain Lowry. As mentioned previously, Dellavedova will need to get into Lowry’s body, play physical with him and cut off any driving lanes. If this means playing Lowry 94-feet, so be it. Dellavedova has never had a problem applying full court pressure to an opponent and that won’t change now.
Playing Lowry straight up and physical has some risks though. It opens Dellavedova up to a number of possible fouls, which he needs to be wary off. Additionally, it creates a conundrum for Cleveland in the pick and roll game.
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The Raptors run a lot of screen and rolls for Lowry, who utilises them as another way to get going downhill to the basket. Predominantly, Cleveland uses two pick and roll defenses to stop attacking point guards -- a ‘drop’ or a ‘show’.
The difference in the two of them mainly revolves around the big man. In a ‘drop’, the big will stay behind the screen and roll action, providing assistance to the on-ball defender. In a ‘show’, the big shows onto the ball handler when he comes off the screen, causing him to go east-west, instead of north-south.
Another typical coverage NBA teams use to keep guards out of the lane is going under the screen. Thus, this encourages the ball handler to shoot a jumper, instead of driving to the basket. Lowry has been horrible with the three-point shot in the playoffs, connecting on just 28.3 percent of his attempts from downtown. This is another option for the Cavs, but if Lowry does regain his shooting touch (he did shoot 38.8 percent from beyond the arc in the regular season), it will open up a whole new set of problems for Cleveland.
Whichever strategy the Cavs go with is yet to be answered, but Dellavedova’s role in both coverages is the same. He will be asked to fight through the pick, providing the maximum on-ball pressure to Lowry.
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This is where Dellavedova may be asked to defend Lowry for greater periods of time than Irving. Dellavedova has the physical strength needed to get up into Lowry’s body and fight through screens while guarding him. Irving doesn’t possess this trait, and therefore could be exposed by the Raptors.
Toronto’s back-up point guard, Cory Joseph, is a lot like Dellavedova. He is a defensive guy, who will play with an edge. On the offensive end though, he won’t provide much. Dellavedova needs to be aware of his ability to get to the rim, but not to the extent of Lowry’s. Joseph is also a 41.7 percent three-point shooter in the playoffs, but he won’t shoot unless he is wide open.
After playing just 13.7 minutes a night in the conference semis, no one really knows how much Dellavedova will be on the court against the Raptors. When he does get his chance though, he needs to prioritise staying in front of Lowry, and not allowing him to get to the basket easily.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com/stats.