The Art of ... En Garde

December 18, 2012
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

When you’re a team’s best defender, you might draw one of the opponent’s big guys or one of their little guys. But you’re definitely drawing their best guy.

It might be picking up a point guard for 94 feet or checking one of the top five players of all-time for 40 minutes. Alonzo Gee did both last week.

Coach Byron Scott has praised Gee as his best defender, which wins the coach’s good graces, but can be a tough day at the office.

The Cavs’ man of few words, Gee’s offensive numbers are up and he continues to be the team’s highlight reel dunker. He still put up 17 points while trying to contain Kobe and he’s notched double-figures in 15 games this year, including a Nov. 30 victory over Atlanta that featured his game-winning put-back.

But whether he’s scoring for the Cavaliers or not, No. 33 knows his assignment almost every night. There’s probably not much Art to guarding an opponent. Defense is a dirty job. But somebody (named Alonzo Gee)’s gotta do it.

How much does your defensive assignment affect your offensive game?
Alonzo Gee: Well it all depends on where I’m playing at. If I’m playing the point guard and I’m guarding him 94 feet, it’s going to take away from my offense a lot. Because I’m not going to have legs to get under my shot.

That was your job against Monta Ellis last week. Do you like that assignment?
Gee: I do, because it gets us going. I like playing up-tempo, fast basketball.

What do you try to do against a smaller guard like that?
Gee: It depends on where they have the ball. If they’re bringing the ball up, I’m going to try to pressure him full-court; try to turn him a couple times just to speed him up a little bit. In the halfcourt, just try to shade his to his weak hand and try to contain him. I like to use my length, my size and try to get physical with him.

They get calls on that, but I try.

And against forwards your size or bigger?
Gee: Bigger guys, I try to pressure up on them too. Bigger guys can’t dribble as good.

You always draw the assignment of LeBron. What do you try to do with him?
Gee: Try to take away his fastbreak points. He gets it, he wants to run, he wants to push the ball. So the earlier you pick him up in certain areas, you slow him down a little bit. But guys like that, you can’t really slow them down. They’re going to get going in spurts.

Even though Coach Scott praised your defense after, how difficult is it when Kobe Bryant still goes off for 42?
Gee: (laughs) It’s tough, just because I thought I was working really hard to try to stop him. I was contesting all his shots. You can’t be too physical with him because he’ll get every call.

It’s tough, but you just have to keep doing it. The coaches do a good job, and my teammates – they’ll encourage me that I’m right there.

How important is film study?
Gee: It helps out a lot. You know their go-to move. You know what their weaknesses are. If a guy goes right every time, you’re going to shade him to his left.

Last week, Kobe mentioned that guys don’t talk crap anymore. Does anyone get in your ear while you’re guarding them?
Gee: Nah. I haven’t run into anybody that’s talked crap yet. Not to me. But I don’t really say much. I just play hard. I don’t talk much, so I don’t think they’ll talk crap to me.

Who’s the toughest guy to guard?
Gee: I really can’t say. All of them are tough. It’s hard to stop everybody. You know, Kobe’s gonna do what he does. Melo’s going to get his points. LeBron. Everybody like that is going to get their points. You just have to slow them down and not let them get it all at one time. It’s tough.

You’ve worked on something every offseason since you’ve been here. Is defense something you can work on in the offseason?
Gee: Well, you have to work on your conditioning. Because I have to be able to do it on the defensive end and run the floor, and then pick up again, then run the floor. And lately, I’ve been playing like 40 minutes a game.

You have to be in shape, so your conditioning is pretty important. You have to be in shape. I think I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.

Was it something you came into this season focused on?
Gee: It’s something (the coaches and I) talked about last year – my ability to guard. I’ve been more committed this year than I’ve ever been.

Do you like being the team’s defender?
Gee: Yeah. It keeps me on the floor.

And you’re still not going to tell us who’s your toughest guy to check?
Gee: No. That’s something I can’t tell. Because I don’t want that somebody getting at me.