INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The pained expression on Kyrie Irving’s face combined with seeing the Cleveland Cavaliers’ point guard scratching his head with both of his hands was an all too familiar sight for coach Tyronn Lue.
Lue saw it quite a few times, actually, in Cleveland’s 104-93 Game 1 win against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday.
“Whenever he does this,” Lue said after practice Tuesday, mimicking Irving’s body language, “that means something’s wrong.”
Irving’s consternation stemmed from the Cavs’ defensive scheme on Hawks backup point guard, Dennis Schroder.
Going into the series, Cleveland determined it would put all of its effort into limiting Kyle Korver’s touches on offense and play off of Schroder while doing so -- essentially daring the third-year guard to shoot.
In one sense, the plan worked to perfection. Korver, coming off a first round in which he averaged 3.3 made 3s per game, attempted just one shot in Game 1 and missed it. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert received individual praise for their efforts in containing Korver within the team defense, and rightfully so.
Where things got uncomfortable for Irving was seeing Schroder, who shot just 3-for-16 from 3 (18.8 percent) in the first round against Boston, suddenly go 5-for-10 from downtown in Game 1.
“He’s like looking at me and he’s like, ‘Are we still going to keep going under (the screens) with Schroder?’” Lue said of Irving. “I was like, ‘Let’s give it one more try.’ Then we adjusted and I thought the guys did a great job of adjusting and we took care of the problem in the situation, and it’s a tribute to those guys.
“We came in with a game plan, Schroder made shots; it didn’t work so we had to adjust, and they did a great job of adjusting.”
The fact that Korver was held to just one attempt for the first time all season was understandably hard for Irving to celebrate when it appeared like he was being abused in his individual matchup with Schroder.
Twice during his postgame remarks, when asked about Schroder’s impact, Irving offered requisite respect but made sure to add that the way he guarded the Hawks’ floor general was a scripted part of the “game plan.”
There is surely some pride in play for Irving, 24, matched against Schroder, 22, and Lue understands that. That’s why Irving’s continued buy-in in the Cavs’ team instructions -- even if he flashed that troubled look from time to time -- was even more impressive to Lue.
“I just told the team today, if we can limit Korver to one shot, that’s big for us,” Lue said. “It was kind of the same thing in the first series. I think we trapped the basketball with [Andre] Drummond and [Reggie] Jackson, and we’re leaving guys open. Guys made some shots, but we didn’t get discouraged. That was our game plan, to take them out of the pick-and-roll, and we did that. And guys didn’t get discouraged. They knew what we were playing for and what we were trying to do.
“It was kind of the same thing [Monday]. The kind of competitive part kicks in when guys are scoring and that’s your matchup, but, just for the most part I thought we did a great job.”
In trapping Drummond and Jackson in the first round against Detroit, guys like Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were granted easy opportunities when the Pistons could elude the Cavs’ initial pressure.
However, during the course of the series, the trap worked more often than not and Lue’s players only trusted the coach’s instructions with further conviction.
“You got to stick with the game plan and hope that the percentages will play out because when you have a game plan like that to give up something to take away a lot of other things,” said Matthew Dellavedova. “You have to give up something like that, because if you change it [in the middle of the game], then they get the other things. So it's definitely a balancing act with something like that.”
That’s not to say that Lue is so stubborn that he won’t make changes just to prove his initial plan right. In the postgame locker room after Game 1, Irving said that he “already has ideas” for adjustments for Game 2 -- ideas that will surely be shared with Lue. It’s just another sign of the synchronicity occurring in Cleveland now.
“We definitely all believe in the coaching staff and their game plan,” Dellavedova said. “All the players know the game plan and have watched the film and know what the plan is, and it's just a matter of executing it."