BOSTON — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said his team is weighing whether to start Tristan Thompson in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, but he might have already tipped his hand when asked about how Thompson could help against Boston Celtics big man Al Horford.
“Looking at the statistics, over the last three years with at least 30 possessions (defending him), out of all the guys that have guarded Al Horford, Tristan is No. 1 in the league defending Al Horford,” Lue said. “So, that’s a good thing, you know?”
Horford, a five-time All-Star, opened up Game 1 by hitting his first seven shot attempts and finished with 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting, six assists, four rebounds and two blocks. The Celtics led by as many as 29 en route to a 108-83 win.
Lue said he thought about putting Thompson in at center from the opening tip — a move that would trickle down the lineup and place Kevin Love at the 4, LeBron James at the 3, JR Smith at the 2, George Hill at the 1 and Kyle Korver coming off the bench — but he wanted to stick with the lineup that had success in the first and second rounds against Indiana and Toronto.
“We weighed it before the series started, but we’d won seven out of eight and we weren’t going to adjust until someone beat us and we didn’t play well with that lineup that got us to this point,” Lue said.
Thompson, who had eight points and 11 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench Sunday, was a starter the last three postseasons as Cleveland posted a 12-1 record against Horford, as a member of the Celtics and Atlanta Hawks.
“Horford’s a very good player; he’s an All-Star,” Thompson said Monday. “If you can’t get up to play All-Star bigs, then I have nothing to tell you. Whenever you go against him, we’ve had a history, especially in Atlanta with him and (Paul) Millsap, with Chicago Joakim (Noah) and Pau (Gasol), those are All-Star bigs that are very good players and for me a guy that wants to keep getting better and keep proving myself, you get up for those games.”
Part of the problem against Horford and the Celtics, according to Love, was the Cavs’ early approach.
“I think in the first half we were a little soft,” he said Monday. “Just letting a few of their guys get open looks and get a good feel. They’ve been playing extremely well throughout these playoffs. The players have been stepping up for them. We just need to be better at making them feel us.”
Lue felt like the Cavs’ offense is what caused the Cavs’ defense to slide, but Thompson said Love’s assessment was spot-on.
“I think as a team, 1 through 5, we’ve got to all play tougher,” Thompson said. “Obviously when I check in the game I’ll try to bring that toughness and that energy. But our starters have got to be ready to throw the first punch. We need them to do that, we need them to be physical and set a tone early. If they do that from opening tip, it makes it easier for the second unit to come in and keep that energy going.”
The Cavs are also looking for a better game out of James, after he missed 11 of the 16 shots he attempted Sunday and also coughed up seven turnovers.
“Usually when Bron has these kind of games, the next game he does something legendary,” said Thompson. “But at the same time, we can’t rely on that. (We’ve got) our job to do as other players, we’ve got to help him and be effective. The more effective we are, the more it opens up for him.”
Love recalled how James played in Game 2 of the first round — scoring the Cavs’ first 16 points straight en route to 46 as Cleveland tied its series with Indiana.
“I expect him to have a big response,” Love said. “He’s always done it even before he came back to Cleveland and since I’ve been here he’s always responded big. I imagine it’ll be a lot like Game 2 against Indiana. We had a really tough loss, he came out and played really well and started that game off extremely well. He’s going to approach this game as one he’s going to have to lead and bounce back.”
And Lue simply wants James to attack mismatches more often when the Celtics get caught on a switch defensively that should work in the Cavs’ favor.
“We just need him to be aggressive, especially when they’re switching, putting smaller guys on him or switching and putting the 5 on him,” Lue said. “Just being aggressive and making the right play. (Sunday) night, we weren’t in sync offensively and it kind of carried over to our defense.”