One of the few questions revolving around the Cleveland Cavaliers coming into this season revolved heavily around their defense. Everyone knew how good their offense could be, it was a question of whether their defense could be good enough for them to win a championship.
Those questions are slowly starting to come to fruition, as the Cavs turned in another strong defensive effort in the month of December, holding the Denver Nuggets to 41.6 percent shooting in the Cavs 93-87 road win.
A night after the Cavs seemed to get out of a mini offensive slump that seemed like more of a blip on the radar than an actual trend, the offense slightly slipped back to where it was the previous games before last night's game against the Phoenix Suns. The Cavs did shoot above 40 percent from the field (44.2 percent to be exact) and did score more than 92 points, both things they failed to do in three of their last four games, but it wasn't the dominant effort we expect from the Cavs offense.
Of course, some of that could be expected. Kyrie Irving was out as part of the last phase of his rehab, so some of the offensive expected to slip, especially after he played his best game this year. Despite 34 points from LeBron James after his own offense had slipped of late and a season-high 16 points from Iman Shumpert on 7-of-13 shooting off the bench, the rest of the offense was sluggish. Kevin Love couldn't hit much of anything, missing 12 of his 16 shot attempts and the Cavs as a team shot 19.0 percent on three-pointers on 21 attempts.
Defensively, however, the Cavs wrecked havoc on a Nuggets team missing four of their best offensive players. The Cavs forced the Nuggets into plenty of tough shots and were active in the passing lanes, forcing 17 Denver turnovers. Just like it was offensively, the defensive pressure was led by James and Shumpert, as they combined for four steals, including two late ones by James that led to wide open fast break dunks for him on the other end.
Although this was a six-point game, the Cavs were in control of this one pretty much from the second quarter on. A few late baskets from the Nuggets made the final score less of an indication of how the game had went. Because the offense wasn't as good as expected, the defense helped keep the game in favor of the Cavs for a majority of the game,
Outside of a hot-shooting night from the Portland Trail Blazers the other night, the Cavs defense has been one of the best in the league in the month of December. Coming into tonight, the Cavs had the third-lowest defensive rating in December, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors.
Don't expect the defense to be the staple of the Cavs going forward, but this time of stretch for them defensively shows how their defense won't be a crutch for them in their quest for a title. In fact, it could be an asset in case the offense does go through stretches like it is at the moment.