Isaiah Thomas isn’t the reason the Cavaliers defense is second worst in the NBA as you read this. It had been awful to start the season while Thomas was out recovering from his hip injury.
However, since his return the Cavaliers defense is a disturbingly poor 117.2 points allowed per 100 possessions when he is on the court (8.3 per 100 worse than when he is off the court).
On Sunday against the Pistons, coach Tyronn Lue worked to stagger the minutes between Thomas and LeBron James more. In the first half, Thomas sat midway through the first quarter, then came back in to start the second quarter while LeBron rested.
In the second half, it got more interesting — LeBron got about five minutes of rest at the end of the third quarter while Thomas stayed on the court. Then to start the fourth Thomas sat and Lue leaned on the “LeBron and the bench” lineup that has worked so well this season. It did again — the Cavaliers went on a 23-7 run near the end of the game to get the win. Thomas never got in the game again. (To be fair it wasn’t just Thomas — Tristan Thompson didn’t play the fourth either, while Kevin Love and J.R. Smith barely got in.) Lue is looking for any rotation that can spark this team, and Isaiah Thomas is okay with this, he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“We talked about it, so I think that needs to happen,” Thomas said of the adjustment. “My minutes just can’t be with LeBron at all times. We got to play to our strengths. Just like Chris Paul and James Harden, they don’t play together at all times.
“We got to play to our strengths. Kyrie [Irving] last year, they didn’t play together at all times. So he’s figuring it out, and we’re figuring it out as a unit, how to use our strengths, and at the same time, we know for the most part we start games together, finish games together, and we go from there. So it’s a learning process, and we’re still learning each other. I’m still learning this team, and Ty Lue is still learning how to use me and use me to the best of my ability.”
If Thomas isn’t out there at the end of a close game, or if he gets subbed offense for defense, how will he react? This is all just something to keep an eye on going forward as the Cavaliers try to get headed in the right direction (they have won two in a row).
It also works because LeBron James is really good at basketball — he finished with 25 points and 14 assists.