It was a bad sign when Isaiah Thomas turned the ball over on the first possession of the Eastern Conference finals. On Wednesday, Thomas’ series started with the Boston Celtics star getting trapped in the corner by the Cleveland Cavaliers’ supposed defensive weak links, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Unable to find a passing angle, Love wound up with a steal.
It is no surprise that Cleveland was active and aggressive against Thomas. Coach Tyronn Lue did not want him to get going and give energy to his teammates and the crowd. After the Cavs’ 117-104 victory, Lue revealed that their “main objective was to make it physical on Isaiah, try to take him out.”
They did not want him to get comfortable, and they definitely did not want him to get easy points at the free throw line or clean looks from behind the 3-point line.
A few minutes after that trap, Thomas ran a high pick-and-roll with Al Horford, but then he forced a pass to the big man with Irving in a position to help. Irving, who tends to be much more aware on defense in the playoffs, picked it off easily.
Thomas is one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league, but because of the way Cleveland rotated, he never really gained an advantage on that play. The Cavs didn’t play every possession this perfectly, but, just like in earlier rounds, they generally adhered to the game plan and it paid off.
That focus has been why they have appeared to flip the proverbial switch in the playoffs.
“The one thing that you understand is you’ve got a lot more time to kind of game plan, and game plan for your opponent,” Cleveland star LeBron James said at practice on Thursday.