By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Cavaliers head coach Ty Lue is not going to waste a second trying to get his team back on track.
On the heels of a 25-point loss to the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Lue’s first attempted fix will come with the insertion of Tristan Thompson into the Cleveland starting five.
With Thompson’s focus coming on limiting the damage that Celtics leader Al Horford can inflict on the Cavaliers.
“Looking at the statistics over the last three years: Of at least 30 possessions, out of all the guys that guarded Al Horford, Tristan has been No. 1 in the league defending Al Horford,” Lue revealed Monday. “That’s a good thing to know.”
Totaling 20 points on an 8-for-10 afternoon from the field, the 31-year-old Horford undoubtedly gave the Cavs fits in Game 1, and helped the Celtics dominate around the basket, outscoring Cleveland 60-to-38 in the paint. Horford also maintained his status as a capable threat from deep, with makes on two of his fourth attempts from behind the arc.
“He’s just versatile. He’s been able to do so much for them, especially with Kyrie [Irving] out, just really stepping up his game,” Cleveland big Kevin Love said of Horford. “I mentioned those guys have been playing extremely well in the Playoffs. He’s at the forefront of that. He’s a guy that has been shooting the three extremely well, been mixing up roles, shooting at a high clip, playing very efficient, so we have to find ways to slow him down.”
“Horford is playing very well right now, and he’s shooting the crap out of the ball,” Thompson, who collected 11 rebounds in 20:42 in Game 1, remarked. “When I do check into the game, whether it’s him or [Aron] Baynes, I just try to run the floor, set pick-and-rolls, just try to work them on both ends so that hopefully by the second half his legs might be a little tired where he might not make that three that he makes in the first half. That’s what I try to do.”
If Thompson is in the starting, the idea — at least from Lue and the Cavs’ point of view — is that the Celtics could and would throw Baynes in their starting lineup to try and counteract Thompson’s powerful rebounding presence in front of the basket.
That would likely take Marcus Morris out of the starting lineup and off James, too.
And while that’s a potential tradeoff the Cavaliers would most definitely take after Game 1, it would also force the Cavaliers to play a little bit bigger than they have this postseason, especially in recent games.
“It’s definitely something we have to weigh,” Lue said of moving away from the smaller lineup that brought them dominant results entering the third round. “We weighed it before the series started. But we won seven out of eight, and we weren’t going to adjust until someone beat us. We had played well with that lineup, and it got us to this point.”
But don’t expect Celtics coach Brad Stevens to fall for the potential smokescreen that is Thompson’s starting presence.
“I think any time you’re playing Cleveland, first and foremost, it’s about LeBron [James] and then about the shooters and players around him,” Stevens offered Monday. “Whoever they put on the floor, we’re going to have to help appropriately, depending on who’s on the floor, and we’re going to have to guard him as hard as we can, which is easier said than done. I’m guessing he’ll be a part of that lineup, so that’s — our focus and emphases will remain the same.”
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.