Since the Cleveland Cavaliers had the audacity to lose a basketball game Friday night, even though it was to the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and it was on the road, of course the critics of David Blatt were out in full force.
Did we mention that the loss was also in the midst of a four games in five nights stretch and the Cavs won three of those games?
We constantly point out that when the Cavs do lose, it is the fault of either of two people, and sometimes both. Those people was Blatt and Kevin Love.
The criticism on Friday night was the lack of fourth quarter playing time for Timofey Mozgov.
The reason has everything to do with defensive match ups, and Blatt is no different from most NBA coaches in this respect.
He matches up defensively, particularly late in games, and that’s why Mozgov doesn’t see the court a lot at the end of the game.
It also has everything to do with the style of today’s NBA.
Most teams no longer have legitimate low post centers, instead, they favor guys who can get out on the floor and spread out the court. That is not the big Russian’s strength as a player.
The last thing Blatt and his staff want is for their center to get caught 15 feet away from the basket and have the opposition get point-blank lay ups or dunks.
So, the more effective defensive line up at the end of games is to have Tristan Thompson at center, because he is able to defend better out on the floor.
For comparison, Toronto only plays Jonas Valenciunas, he of the tackling of LeBron James on Wednesday night, just 3.7 minutes per game in the fourth quarter.
Why? For the same reason that Mozgov doesn’t get fourth quarter minutes.
The other night, if Valenciunas would have played most of the fourth quarter against the Cavaliers, then Mozgov would have been out there too.
Another Eastern Conference center is in the same boat as Valenciunas and Mozgov, and that would be another traditional big man, Washington’s Marcin Gortat.
Wizard fans are wondering why he only averages 4.4 minutes in the final quarter of games. And it is the same issue for Washington coach Randy Wittman, he doesn’t like the match up problems against smaller, quicker bigs.
A player like Joakim Noah is sound enough and quick enough to be able to guard a player who can stay away from the basket, and so is a guy like Al Horford, but both of those players are really power forwards masquerading as centers.
And you can see that it isn’t just David Blatt’s decisions either. Most coaches feel the same way about having a 7 footer trying to guard someone playing 15 feet from the basket. The inner defensive coach in each one of them don’t want to big man guarding someone out there.
Last night against Phoenix, Mozgov did demonstrate the ability to be a force defensively even though he wasn’t guarding a legitimate low post big man, and perhaps it will earn him some minutes late in the game.
However, when push comes to shove, coaches will go with the match up that causes them the least heartburn on the defensive end. And that’s why Mozgov and other bigs can’t get on the floor in the fourth quarter.