Cleveland Cavaliers Set Defensive Tone Against Orlando Magic in Playoff Series

The Cleveland Cavaliers had already set the tone against the Orlando Magic in their 2nd Game on Monday.

by Faruk Imamovic
Cleveland Cavaliers Set Defensive Tone Against Orlando Magic in Playoff Series
© Getty Images/Jason Miller

The Cavs displayed a form of defense that left the Magic struggling to find their rhythm, ultimately leading to a 2-0 series advantage for Cleveland.

The game began with Magic guard Jalen Suggs attempting a 3-pointer, closely guarded by Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen. After a quick shuffle and no success, Suggs passed to forward Franz Wagner, only to be thwarted by Cleveland's Evan Mobley. This sequence was an early example of the smothering defense that has become a hallmark for the Cavs in this series.

The Cavaliers have made history by being the first team since the San Antonio Spurs in 2017 to allow fewer than 90 points in the first two games of a postseason series. They've held the Magic to a mere 34.4% shooting from the field—marking one of the lowest percentages through the first two playoff games in the past 60 seasons.

Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff emphasized their strategy post-game, saying, "We did a great job of forcing them to the shots that we wanted and conceding nothing. Very few of the shots that they took tonight weren't contested, and the majority of them were highly contested."

Cleveland's Frontcourt: Allen and Mobley's Defensive Mastery

The defensive prowess of Cleveland’s frontcourt, particularly Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, has significantly stifled Orlando’s offense. In the series, Orlando has shot a dismal 13-of-50 from the floor when contested by either big man, including a poor 2-of-15 from beyond the arc.

Allen, who has had a particularly standout series, recently became just the third player in Cavaliers history to record at least 20 rebounds in a playoff game, joining the ranks of Kevin Love and Brad Daugherty. This marks a significant improvement from his previous postseason performances, which were notably less impactful.

Reflecting on his past and present performances, Allen acknowledged, "I'm more comfortable with how I approach the game [than last postseason]. I am more comfortable with my role, knowing what I have to do every night. I guess I feel more grounded."

This resurgence in form is crucial, as Allen and Mobley's efforts on defense have been key to controlling the series. Their ability to challenge shots inside has reduced Orlando's effectiveness, with the Magic managing only 4-for-12 shooting within 10 feet when Allen is the contesting defender.

Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two
Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two© Getty Images/Jason Miller

Moreover, the Cavaliers’ entire defensive scheme has been revitalized. After a slip in their defensive rating post-All-Star break, the team refocused on their defensive strategies during the final weeks of the regular season. Coach Bickerstaff highlighted the importance of practice in reclaiming their defensive identity, stating, "We didn't have many practice days. So inevitably without practice, you have slippage. But I think that week gave us an opportunity to really sit down and practice and find our habits again."

The Cavaliers’ defensive efforts extend beyond just their big men. The team has also excelled in defending the perimeter, keeping Orlando’s jump shooters to a season-low 25.3% field goal percentage in this series. Guard Max Strus mentioned the strategic aspect of their perimeter defense, emphasizing the team’s collective effort in forcing opponents into difficult shots.

Adapting Strategies: Cavaliers' Game Plan and Expectations

Orlando's leading scorers, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, have been held below their regular-season scoring averages, a testament to Cleveland's effective game plan and execution. Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff explained, "Those guys had six turnovers [in Game 2]. So we've done the job of shrinking the floor, making 'em take tough shots." This approach has disrupted Orlando's offensive flow and limited their scoring opportunities.

Max Strus further elaborated on the Cavaliers' defensive approach, emphasizing the importance of controlling the tempo and forcing the Magic into less favorable shooting positions. "If anyone not in the paint gets a Magic player into an undesirable look, that forces him to feed it down low," Strus explained. "Then, it's making our bigs do the rest of the work." This teamwork and strategic manipulation of the game flow have enhanced Cleveland's defensive stature, which has been crucial in their postseason campaign.

The Cavs’ bench has also played a pivotal role in their defensive success. Reserves like Isaac Okoro and Caris LeVert have provided valuable minutes, offering seamless defensive support when starters like Mobley and Strus are off the floor. This depth has allowed Cleveland to maintain defensive pressure and adaptability throughout the game. Cavs All-Star Donovan Mitchell praised this versatility, noting, "When you can change coverages — you can switch, you can drop, you can hedge and show — you can do different things when you have two guys like that. It definitely allows us to kind of manipulate the lineups and throw different looks at people."

Cleveland Cavaliers Orlando Magic