Larry Nance Jr. embraces Cavs' spotlight, role in playoffs

25-year old speaks about pressure that comes with playing with LeBron

Daryl Ruiter
May 20, 2018 - 10:04 pm
Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. (22) dunks and scores in front of Boston Celtics forward Al Horford (42) in game three of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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Independence, OH (92.3 The Fan) – When Larry Nance Jr. was traded to the Cavaliers in February he was thrilled to get to come home and play for his dad’s team.

Little did he know what playing in Cleveland, this season, meant.

Having spent his first 2 1/2 years professional playing for the lottery-bound Lakers, he stepped right into not just a playoff push but a championship-or-bust minefield.

Suffice it to say, it’s been an adjustment for the 25-year old.

“Obviously being in LA, we had a lot of media around us with the different circuses we had there,” Nance said. “But yeah, here, this is brand new. This is something completely different. You can't turn on SportsCenter, ESPN, nothing, without hearing Cavs this, Cavs that. It's definitely taken some adjusting. But yeah, I think I'm there now, and I'm ready.”

The pressure of playing with LeBron James and the spotlight, microscope and expectations that come with it is a unique challenge, one that Nance has grown to embrace over the past few months.

“Every possession matters. Every defensive coverage matters,” Nance said when asked what the difference between the regular season and playoffs was. “During the regular season, not to say it doesn't matter, but you can get away with one or two mistakes because it's not that crucial.

“We let [Al] Horford slip into a three, or we let [Aron] Baynes get a dunk, and it could change the series. That's probably been the biggest thing for me is just really focusing on game plan and what we're doing.”

Nance was acquired along with Jordan Clarkson from the Lakers just before the trade deadline for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and their 2018 first-round draft pick.

“Larry knows his job,” Clarkson said. “He's going to screen, he's going to roll, he's going to get rebounds and he's going to defend. I think his time is coming in this series. Yesterday he came in ready. A lot of people don't know, we play like every other day in the morning. We're just trying to stay ready so whenever we get our name called, we'll be ready to go to work.”

Both Nance and Clarkson are trying to find their way here this post season as head coach Tyronn Lue continues to shuffle lineups and rotations.

“His energy, his athleticism, his ability to switch and guard multiple positions is good for us,” Lue said. “And when he's rolling to the basket, he got a couple dunks last night, and when they pulled in the help, they've got Kyle pulled and JR making threes. His athletic ability and his force going to the rim is really key for us.”

Nance started the postseason in the rotation but when Tristan Thompson was moved into the starting lineup for Game 7 against the Pacers and throughout the Toronto series, Nance took a back seat.

He started Game 2 in Boston and then in Game 3 played just over 21 minutes.

“It's definitely been a roller coaster,” Nance said. “Came in playing a lot, kind of faded into the background a little bit, now I'm getting to play some more. Everybody around here just keeps telling me -- obviously everybody is in my corner -- stay professional, stay ready, stay in shape, all stuff I already know, but it's good to hear it, and it's nice to see it pay off with a win.”

In that win Nance, who made all 4 of his shots and scored 8 points in Game 3, helped deliver one of the highlights of the night – receiving one of James’ patented left-handed passes that he was able to slam home to put the Cavs up 17 in the second quarter.

It still hasn’t hit him he’s playing alongside the greatest player in the game, But Nance is appreciative of the once in a lifetime opportunity that finds him on the receiving end of James’ brilliance.

“It’s hard not to be,” Nance said. “But in the moment no. It’s just like catch, finish. That’s all that’s going through my mind. I’m sure at one point I’ll look back at that like being able to catch a lob from Kobe [Bryant] or something like that. It’s definitely something that I’ll definitely keep in my memory bank.”

James isn’t the only shadow Nance plays under in Cleve;and either. His father, Larry Nance Sr., is a Cavs legend and his number, which the NBA is allowing him to wear, hangs in the rafters.

While the elder Nance is Jr.'s biggest fan, he’s also his biggest critic.

“He actually asked me why when LeBron caught that back-door and rocked it and reversed it, ‘Why didn’t you do that?’” Nance said, a reference to a spectacular bounce pass from Kevin Love that James double pumped mid-air and smashed home with two hands in reverse. “He’s always got some remarks for me after the game. Most of them come the day after.

“He’s at home watching the film right now. On the drive home, I’ll know more.”

The Cavs acquired Nance, who is eligible for a contract extension this summer, with the present and future in mind.

“The way I think of it is, I got brought here obviously to help win this year, but I’m looking forward to the rest of this playoffs, next year, the year after that,” Nance said. “They’ve gotten younger, so any time you get younger, it’ll help your team for years to come.”