LeBron James couldn’t stop smiling when the new-look Cavaliers put on a show in Boston. It almost looked like a 225-pound had been lifted from LeBron’s massive shoulders. The King was having fun again, and that’s bad news for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
It’s only a very small sample size but the Cavaliers’ 121-99 demolition of Kyrie Irving and the Celtics on Paul Pierce Night sent shockwaves around the NBA. The Cleveland team that looked old and broken down for two months has picked up some brand new parts, and they all seem to fit in nicely.
George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood made their Cavs debut Sunday in a nationally televised game and they didn’t disappoint, making the Cavs instantly better on offense and more stout on defense.
The four players Cleveland acquired in multiple deals during the trade deadline combined for 49 points and eight 3-pointers against the No. 1 defense in the NBA. It looked like the Cavs team that won the NBA title in 2016 when they were a 3-point happy bunch and teams couldn’t get a clue where the attack was coming. Defensively, they were flying to the ball and were locked in on shooters.
If the Cavs look this good now wait until they get a few practices under their belt.
Clarkson, the former Lakers guard, scored 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field in 23 minutes off the bench. His teammate in L.A., Nance Jr., scored five points and grabbed four rebounds, but made his biggest impact on defense. He covered up for guards who were beaten on the perimeter and used his length and athleticism to protect the rim. His father, former Cavs great Larry Nance Sr., would have been proud of the effort. Hood, who was acquired from the Jazz, also came off the bench and ripped the nets for 15 points and was 3-for-6 from 3-point range in 18 minutes.
Hill, the veteran of the group, started the game and scored 12 points in 21 minutes. Hill came from Sacramento, where his main role was to tutor rookie guard DeAaron Fox. Now that he’s a Cavalier, the playoff-tested guard will be looked upon as one of the leaders on and off the floor.
“We haven’t gelled yet, but if it looks like that, we have chance to be something special,” said Hill, who could be the linchpin of a revamped Cavaliers’ defense which had been torched on pick-and-rolls throughout the first half of the season. Hill is a smart defender who can switch against 1s, 2s, 3s, and some 4s. This is a complete turnaround from how the Cavs were forced to play defense with the vertically challenged Isaiah Thomas and the injury riddled Derrick Rose. Hill is already a huge upgrade at the point for LeBron’s crew.
“The IQ and the passion that they play with is gonna help us out a lot,” LeBron said of his new teammates. “You look at Larry [Nance], you look at Jordan [Clarkson] they haven’t been in a playoff game and they’re kinda hungry. You look at George Hill, who has been in Sacramento, he’s ready to get back in the playoffs. And we get Rodney Hood who was in the playoffs last year with Utah. We got some hungry guys and then we got our guys that’s been here. It’s gonna be very challenging, but we accept it and we’re looking forward to it. It’s gonna be special.”
The Celtics shot just 40.4 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from beyond the arc. Hill was often matched up against Kyrie and held his own, holding the Celtics’ dynamic point guard to 18 points and was just 1-for-7 from 3-point range. Nance gives the Cavs an athletic forward who an occasionally play center if needed. Hood is a pure shooter who can heat up like a microwave. And Clarkson provides firepower off the bench and a big guard who can create matchup problems for smaller guards.
With all these new toys at his disposal, LeBron looks almost giddy.
General manager Koby Altman told Cleveland.com that he may have missed the mark on how he constructed the team prior to the start of the season. The parts he added didn’t fit, so when given an opportunity for a reset he pressed all the right buttons.
“I needed to put a lot more live bodies out there and be way more active and quicker to the ball and still scoring and hopefully we return to some of that fun,” Altman said. “I think we’re going to get a rejuvenated LeBron James and that’s the key.”