The Cavaliers defense sputtered at the end of the regular season, but they've been good (105.9 DefRtg and by comparison, the Celtics average a 105.5 DefRtg) through eight games of the playoffs. Do you see them employing a similar strategy as the Wizards to stop Isaiah Thomas?
Jeff Clark: Like any team, I think they'll try their hand at trapping Thomas and hoping that they can rotate fast enough to cover for the open shooters. That's better than giving Isaiah room to operate at full throttle and it forces the role players to make their shots. Al Horford becomes the key as the point man at the high post and that could pull Tristan Thompson or Kevin Love away from the basket a little but they'll still likely dominate on the boards.
Keith Smith: Cleveland is going to trap Isaiah Thomas and force the ball out of his hands. They'll also gamble for steals off those traps, so the second pass is going to be important for Boston. The Celtics can generate open looks, if they keep the floor spread wide, start pick and roll actions high to get Thomas going downhill, and move the ball crisply. That is a lot to ask, but it is the Eastern Conference Finals.
Lachlan Marr: I don’t think it’s a secret that if you shut down Isaiah then Boston’s offense stalls, so yes I think Cleveland will do whatever they can to shut down IT. However as we’ve seen at throughout this season and indeed during some of the playoffs is that Isiah can be just as dangerous, and in some cases more dangerous, when the ball is out of his hands. So if Cleveland seek to lock up the Little Guy they may find themselves having to pick their poison.
Sean Penney: This should be a good series for Thomas given that Cleveland was one of the worst teams in the league this season defending points guards. IT averaged just under 30 points per game on 49.3% shooting over four meetings with the Cavs this season, which came in only 33 minutes. Averaging 30+ in this series seems very realistic. Sure, Cleveland will try to trap him to get the ball out of his hands, but a better defensive backcourt in Washington tried to do the same and IT still averaged over 27 points in the series.
Alex Kungu: Cavaliers are a juggernaut on the offensive end, but defensively they aren’t going to throw anything at Isaiah Thomas that he hasn’t see in the first two rounds unless they plan on putting James on him which may not be that great of an idea. Expect a lot of traps, lengthy defenders, some full-court press, but I think Thomas will be able to score regardless.
Bill Sy: My thank you card to the Wizards is in the mail. We’ve seen teams trap Thomas to stop the Celtics, but not until beating Washington did we see the Celtics’ supporting cast play so consistently with a team double and triple teaming IT. I actually don’t think the Cavaliers will do it as much as they did in the first round two years ago because of the addition of Al Horford and the maturation of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and the young core in the 2nd unit.
Jared Weiss: The Cavs laid out the early blueprint for stopping Isaiah Thomas in the first round two years ago, quadruple teaming him with two humans, the half court line and the sideline. That series forced Thomas to evolve into the more creative, patient and aware force that he is today. He is no longer easy to trap, although the Wizards showed how he can still be caught by surprise when they trapped him at the end of Game 6 and forced the bad pass turnover that started their comeback. Cleveland may decide to blitz him early to try to set the tone out of the gate, but we won’t see a lot of it until the fourth quarter. Horford was brought in as the cure to this plague, as he can catch a ball from IT at the top of the key and pick the defense apart. For now, Cleveland will ice on high screens and be patient. But when the game is tight and the pressure is on, they will try to suffocate Thomas. He is ready for that challenge and may have some answers we haven’t seen before.