Right now, the Cleveland Cavaliers are a bad defensive rebounding team. Currently, they are 22nd in defensive rebounding percentage, per nba.com/stats. And since Tristan Thompson hurt his calf, the Cavs are the league’s worst defensive rebounding team, per nba.com/stats.
This issue was on full display in crunch time last night in a loss to the Houston Rockets - who happen to be one of the NBA’s best overall rebounding teams, if only a middling offensive rebounding team. With 37 seconds to go, and Kevin Love having fouled out, the Cavs turned to a small lineup of LeBron James, Jeff Green, J.R. Smith, Jae Crowder and Iman Shumpert. They are down two, and have enough time to go for the tie or win if they can get a stop and get the rebound.
The stop happens, as James Harden takes a three and misses. But the Cavs don’t get the rebound because P.J. Tucker gets inside position on Crowder:
What Crowder should be doing here is using his frame to box out Tucker get the rebound. Instead, he leans on Tucker with his arms and can’t stop Tucker from working towards the ball once it ricochet's off the rim. Tucker, by the way, had six offensive rebounds in the second half.
After that rebound, Houston resets. Harden gets the ball back and work from the top of the key. He dribbles down the shot clock, eating away any time for the Cavs to try and score on the other end. When he does go for a shot - this time against Shumpert - he airballs the shot. And it ends up in Clint Capela hands for a wide-open dunk:
Here, Crowder is again at fault. With James closer to Tucker, and Crowder closer to Capela, his responsibility is to get in front of Capela even as the shot goes up. Instead, Crowder is beat inside and has to lean on Capela in hopes that the ball bounces past them off the rim. But instead, Harden’s shot went exactly where Crowder should have been. As a result, the Cavs have lost before even getting a chance to play for the tie or win.
So far this season, Crowder has not been the same rebounder he was with the Celtics last year. In 2016-17, he had the best defensive rebounding percentage (17.8 percent) of his career. So far this year, his 12.8 percent rebounding percentage is the worst since he was a 22-year-old rookie with the Mavericks. Because he is playing so much power forward in small lineups, this has to get better.
He, though, isn’t the only one at fault. Love finished with just six rebounds before fouling out, as Capela finished with 13. And throughout the Rockets game, every Cavalier on the floor had issues boxing out and getting to spots. In a four point game, where the Cavs were otherwise playing with effort and came back from 18 points down, not focusing on rebounding killed them. Cleveland has to get better at this, even when Thompson returns in a few weeks.