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Cleveland Cavaliers playbook: How help defense fueled the Cavs’ offense

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One Kevin Love block led to a J.R. Smith three.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo feasted against the Cavs — there is no way to get around that. Before he fouled out with a few seconds left in the game, Antetokounmpo got just about anything he wanted. He dunked, he cut and he ran the floor en route to several easy buckets at the rim. For the game, he finished with 40 points on 16-21 shooting.

Aside from the fact that he’s a near unstoppable force, Antetokounmpo found success because of how the Cavs decide to cover him. For most of the night, Jae Crowder — or J.R. Smith or whoever was unlucky enough to be switched onto him — had to defend him one on one. That’s basically giving Antetokounmpo two points, or at least an efficient shot attempt.

In the second half, though, the Cavs made an adjustment — they started helping on Antetokounmpo, daring him to score on defenders or to pass the ball. And while he succeeded more often than not, there was one notable success:

The Cavs defend Giannis here by having Love in place with LeBron James there lurking. Around them, J.R. Smith is in position to defend either Tony Snell or Malcolm Brogdon were they to get the ball:

But Giannis spins towards towards the baseline on Crowder, Love makes the effort to meet Giannis at the rim, timing it just right to contest the shot. As Antetokounmpo goes down, Crowder gets the ball and brings it down the floor, passing it off to LeBron to orchestrate the attack.

The Cavs set this up smartly, too. Smith goes to the left wing, Crowder to the right, Rose to the corner and Love heads into the paint. James ultimately picks Smith, who has enough space to get a shot off before Brogdon can properly closeout on him:

Antetokounmpo isn’t even back in the play by the time Smith gets his shot off and gives the Cavs the lead back, giving the Cavs a 5 vs. 4 opportunity. And while not every effortful defensively play will result in plays like this, it’s an example of something the Cavs have been missing in their early season struggles: defense leading to easy offense.