Larry Nance Jr. becoming defensive leader in first playoffs

Nance did not play in two games against Toronto

Alex Hooper
May 22, 2018 - 2:39 pm
May 19, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) drives to the basket in between Cleveland Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. (22) and guard Kyle Korver (26) during the second half in game three of the Eastern conference finals of t

© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Seeing LeBron James calling out defensive orders for the Cleveland Cavaliers is nothing new, but seeing a 25-year-old, third year player in his first playoffs sure is.

Larry Nance Jr. has not only played just 13 postseason games with the Cavs, but only 37 total games back in his hometown. After picking up two DNP-CDs in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Nance is back in Tyronn Lue’s rotation, and a key part of it.

The Cavalier legacy player is key in spelling Tristan Thompson after he chases Al Horford around for as long as the Celtics All-Star is on the court, with Nance providing relief against Aron Baynes and other bigs.

Nance has not just sunk into his role as a stopgap, rather embraced it fully. Several times during Monday’s Game 4 win over Boston, the relatively new cog in the Cavalier machine was calling out defensive assignments, pointing – and sometimes physically grabbing and moving – defenders towards their man after switches and screens.

James sees that, 37 games or not, Nance’s time on the floor has been all he has needed to grow.

“Like you guys always hear me preach about, the best teacher in life is experience,” LeBron said. “From Game 1 in Indy until now, the experience, the atmosphere, he understands what the postseason is all about now. The more and more time he gets, no matter if it's the 10 minutes he got tonight or if it's the extended time in Game 3, he continues to play good ball for us. That's key for our team, and it's key for him as well as he continues to grow.”

With Thompson drawing almost every possession defensively against Horford, Nance’s responsibility has been Baynes. With both Nance and Baynes present on the court over 23 minutes in the series, the Celtics have just a 79.6 oRTG and eFG% of 34.4%. With Nance off the court and Baynes on, Boston has posted a 124.3 oRTG in 59 minutes.

Nance’s superior athleticism compared to the bulky Baynes allows him to give the Cavaliers depth in defending the pick and roll. The energetic 6-foot-10 forward can shoot out at ball-handlers going around Baynes before pivoting back. He also has the agility to defend guards, much like Thompson, and the length to change their shots.

“His verticality and blocked shots at the rim, his pick-and-roll ability and the ability to roll and created – if they pull in, we get threes; if they don’t, he gets lobs and dunks or the pass for finishes,” Lue said post-game Monday.

“I think he sees what it takes,” Lue added. “I think having a chance to play in his first playoffs – and one thing about Larry, you’re going to get effort. You’re going to get toughness. He’s not afraid.”