For a team with so much turnover from last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers followed a familiar script in their 102-99 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. The Cavaliers opened up a large lead, only to see it dwindle away in the third quarter. The Cavaliers again struggled without LeBron James on the court and he was forced to play 41 minutes to secure the last minute comeback and win.
The game was marred by the horrific injury to Gordon Hayward in the first quarter. He came down awkward after an attempted alley-oop and suffered a broken leg. The other players on the court reacted in a way I can’t remember seeing. Players from both teams recoiled and looked almost sick. Teams were forgotten for a moment as players just ran to to comfort and console one another after seeing Hayward’s ankle turned the wrong direction.
The injury deflated the arena, and it’s difficult to know how much to take from this game. Boston was understandably outmatched and emotional in the immediate aftermath, falling behind by 18 points and both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford receiving technical for talking trash to the Cavaliers. The Cavs were certainly lulled to sleep only to see their lead dwindle and finally fall behind with just over a minute left. Was this blown lead due to the same problems as last season? It’s hard to tell in a game like this. We’ll know more in the coming weeks, but there were certainly some problem areas.
Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade can’t start together. They just can’t. I understand egos, and if Dwyane Wade must start, then he needs to do so at point guard or Jose Calderon needs to replace Derrick Rose. The Cavs simply don’t have enough shooting and Rose and Wade take turns forcing inefficient shots that aren’t part of a larger offensive scheme. Kevin Love was completely forgotten as an offensive weapon this game in favor of the two former stars and that’s just unacceptable. Again, it is one game, but this is an area to watch as it’s almost assured that Ty Lue will have to relent at some point and shuffle his starting unit.
Of the two, Wade looked to be the more competent. He wasn’t efficient and will never be accused of being a lock-down defender at this age, but he has veteran savvy and can still make plays. He understands passing lanes; both where to be and where to pass, and came up with a few huge blocks (it was fun to see the greatest shot blocking guard of all time doing so in a Cavaliers uniform.) Rose looked quick and was able to get to the rim, but his inability to finish makes his drives launch fast breaks for the opposing team. Running the second unit I can understand his appeal, but Rose has no place with the starters.
Jeff Green was featured a lot in this game and was a mixed bag. When he plays within the game he can be extremely effective. He pulled in a few strong rebounds and can get in the open floor. But he also looked to shoot at every opportunity. As with Rose and Wade, if he can play within himself and a defined role, he could thrive. As with Rose and Wade, there is no evidence he will do so.
If it sounds like I’m doing on this team, I am not. They have great players and some lineups that looked fantastic. There is no doubt they will eventually go to those lineups, and the addition of Isaiah Thomas will solve a lot of ills. But the Cavaliers put forth one of the best offenses of all time last season based on their ability to surround elite level player makers with shooting. In this game, they shot 23 percent on 22 three attempts. Both of those numbers are extremely low and looking at the players that played heavy minutes, it was not a fluke.
Tristan Thompson won’t continue to play under 20 minutes per game. Jae Crowder looked really good next to LeBron. J.R. Smith was a plus-7 while on the floor. There are plenty of good players on this team, and as the season goes, they should find their way on top.
Of course, this wasn’t just a basketball game. Kyrie Irving made his first appearance in Quicken Loans Arena since his trade this offseason. It was great for this to happen on opening night. He received some boos and now we can all move on. I’m glad this isn’t some date circled on the calendar that we build and anticipate. It was weird to see Irving in a Celtics jersey, but by the end of the game, I was over it. The Cavaliers have their own problems to worry about.