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Van Gundy’s best defense: Play hard, hope for best

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t have all the answers — and he doesn’t want to make it seem as if he thinks he’s even close.

When asked about the performance of the Cavaliers’ Big Three — LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — there really is no clear-cut answer. It’s more about trying to devise a plan to limit their production, not shut anything down.

While the Pistons didn’t let James dominate in Game 1 — he had 22 points, six rebounds and 11 assists — they didn’t have any solutions for Irving and Love, who combined for 59 points.

Even with James’ relatively-pedestrian stat line, Van Gundy wouldn’t consider that holding him in check.

“I never know with the great players,” Van Gundy said. “You do what you think is best; you ask your guys to do certain things. Our guys did those certain things but those guys have had too many great games against my teams for me to think I have a formula or we know how to defend him.”

Sometimes, it’s more about the star missing shots than there being a lock-down defense that prevents him from dominating. Van Gundy recalled the 2005 Eastern Conference finals when the Pistons held Dwyane Wade to 7-for-25 shooting in the series opener and looked to have stumbled onto something.

Wade, however, followed Game 1 with 40 points in Game 2.

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“That’s what happens with the great players; any time you delude yourself into thinking you’ve got the answer and you’re a brilliant coach and you’ve got this scenario — no,” Van Gundy said. “You go out as hard as you can every night and hope your plan is sound and you hope you execute it well and you hope the guy misses some shots.

“You’re not locking those guys down.”

Defending one star is tough enough, but three makes devising a defensive plan that much more difficult.

Marcus Morris had the primary defensive assignment on James on Sunday, but on pick-and-rolls, off turnovers and in transition, that responsibility can fall to anyone.

“(James) still had a lot of points in the paint, and that’s what we’re trying to cut down,” Morris said. “His numbers weren’t too high, but he had a lot of high numbers in the paint, so we’ll try to keep him out of the paint a little bit more.

“When he’s facilitating like that and guys are making shots, we are going to have a long night. He can score, but when his guys are hitting wide-open shots, it’s going to be tough for us.”

While Tobias Harris didn’t have his best defensive game trying to stop Love, he knows there’s a premium on winning Game 2 in Cleveland to avoid an 0-2 deficit.

“This one is a must-win for us — that’s what our mind-set is,” Harris said. “We know what they’re capable of and how they can get hot and get on a run.”

The bottom line for Van Gundy is trying to get a better handle on the Big Three and hope for some missed shots. He admitted there will be some adjustments, but there isn’t a push to scrap the whole plan because they couldn’t stop the trio.

“Those guys don’t have holes in their game — there is no answer,” Van Gundy said. “We have our plan but those guys render plans useless so many times that you’d better be ready with Plan A, Plan B, Plan C … and all the way down.

“Now we’ve got (to have) the Kyrie formula and the Kevin Love formula. They scored 106 and all three of them had great nights. We obviously didn’t have the formula.”

Among the adjustments could be using power forward Anthony Tolliver on Love on the perimeter. Tolliver is a better defender and 3-point threat on offense and Van Gundy didn’t rule out some unorthodox lineups — with Harris at center and Tolliver the power forward — to give the Cavaliers a different look.

That would relegate All-Star center Andre Drummond to the bench, but could provide an advantage on the perimeter.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard