The new-look Cleveland Cavaliers had just one practice together as a team, which happened to be Saturday in Atlanta after the four new players—Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, and George Hill—were cleared to practice with the team. After just one practice, it was clear that none of the four knew much about the Cavs outside of the players on the team and maybe some of the coaching staff. They wouldn’t know many plays, teammates’ tendencies, or anything of that nature.
Yet they were thrown into the fire Sunday afternoon, with the wine and gold taking on the Celtics in Boston on national television. Set to take on the top team in the East,1 no one knew what to expect from the new-look Cavs. Would they gel together after minimal practice time and while head coach Tyronn Lue figures out rotations and who works best next to who? Lue decided to start Hill at point guard, while the other three came off the bench. To say that the four new Cavaliers played well would be an understatement. Besides that, the old Cavs seemed rejuvenated.
It led to a 121-99 thrashing of the Celtics on what was Paul Pierce’s Day, with the former Celtic getting his number retired on Sunday. The No. 1 defense in the NBA looked lost for much of the game while allowing the Cavs to get virtually whatever they wanted offensively while Boston gave up the most points they have all season. Unfortunately for Pierce and Boston, with people looking up to the rafters to see the newest honorary’s number, they were also forced to see that 22-point loss to the Cavs on the scoreboard as well, thanks to LeBron James and company.
Let’s take a look at some of the Cavs who stood out the most in the win over the Celtics:
The new guys
When he was acquired, some thought that he was a good addition, but his salary was a concern. Well, luckily, Cavs fans aren’t the ones who write the paychecks, so all the fans should be worried about is how the players perform on the court.
In 23 minutes off the bench, the guard had 17 points, three rebounds, one assist, and two steals while shooting 7-of-11 from the floor and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. He not only gave the Cavs plenty of energy and scoring off the bench, but Clarkson also gave the Cavs the best celebration of the game as well, one that seemed to go over quite well on Twitter.
Thanks to Clarkson, that signature celebration may just be coming to a gym near you.
Larry Nance Jr.
What a moment for Nance. Being able to suit up for the same team that your dad once did has to be emotional, let alone when he first returns to Quicken Loans Arena and takes the court with his dad’s number hanging in the rafters above.
Of the four new guys, Nance is the only one that isn’t really considered a shooter. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a big addition, not only because of his jumping (and dunking) ability, but his athleticism and versatility gives the Cavs a new look in the frontcourt.
Playing the second-most minutes off the bench, the forward had five points, four rebounds, three assists, and one steal in 21 minutes. His ability to dominate the pick-and-roll offensively will be something that the Cavs will use more and more going forward. In his first game in the wine and gold, Nance gave Cavs fans an idea of what he can do inside the paint.
A 6-foot-8 shooting guard doesn’t seem possible, but that’s exactly what Hood is. With his length, he will be a force defensively. It was his offense that was able to catch the most attention Sunday afternoon.
In 19 minutes off the bench, Hood totaled 15 points, three rebounds, one steal, and one block while knocking down 6-of-11 from the floor and 3-of-6 from long distance. His plus-14 led the second unit. Hood may not have had any highlight-reel dunks, but his shooting on the outside along with his length defensively didn’t (and won’t) go unnoticed.
The lone newbie to start, it seemed as though Hill had been so used to the Cavs that he had been starting all season. Whether it was his ability to play the pick-and-roll both offensively and defensively, length and versatility on defense, or his ability to make plays and knock down open shots even though he didn’t always need the ball in his hands, the veteran has already proven that he can be a difference maker.
As many have stated, Hill doesn’t need to dominate the basketball but can make shots and guard his position, which the perfect type of point guard to have alongside LeBron. He showcased his ability to lead the Cavs in his first game with Cleveland. Hill had 12 points, three rebounds, and one assist, but it was his defense that was most impressive. Whether it was fighting through screens, being able to switch onto players who were taller or bigger than him, or coming up with big plays that led to turnovers, Hill is special.
The old Cavs (that look rejuvenated)
Remember when No. 23 looked like he no longer wanted to be with the Cavs and just looked disinterested? That seems so long ago. The smiles, the energy, the hustle, the attention to the details, and the effort defensively in his first game with his new teammates tell you all you need to know about James’ focus. Even though he played much less than usual given the blowout win, James’ voice following the game was all but gone due to the leadership he had defensively.
Add in that celebration he had while on the bench after one of Clarkson’s three-pointers and the King not only seems rejuvenated, but James seems quite happy as well. Oh, and against supposedly the best team in the East, No. 23 played just 28 minutes and sat the bench throughout the entire fourth quarter because of how much the Cavs dominated the Celtics.
Last week, Smith thought he was going to be traded. When Thursday’s trade deadline came and went, Swish remained a Cav. While he has looked much better over the last few games, while continuing to make shots from the outside, Smith had a dunk that was heard around Cleveland.
Not only due to the dunk, but it seems as though the trade rumors gave Smith some energy because he has played much better over the last couple weeks. If the Cavs want to win it all, they need Smith to be good both offensively and defensively. This is a good start.
The rook started the first game of his career in Atlanta last Friday due to the Cavs missing so many players due to the trade, but no one thought that would continue. Due to his impressive game against the Hawks, Osman Lue decided to keep the rook in the starting lineup Sunday in Boston as well.
Although he most likely will start coming off the bench sooner rather than later, the forward’s youth, ability to make plays on both ends of the floor, and just all-out hustle gives the Cavs something that they didn’t really have before. Keep in mind, part of the reason why Dwyane Wade was traded was due to Osman’s increased role. So far, it’s worked out for the Cavs.
Obviously, the Cavs will go through plenty of ups and downs, but to have a game like they did in Boston even though they’ve had very little time to even play together is definitely something that they can hang their hat on going forward. They will struggle and disagree at times, but one game in, it seems as though the new-look Cavs get along much better than the old ones did.
Even without All-Star Kevin Love, they just took down the team that currently holds the East’s best record. Not a bad start. They should only improve the more acclimated they get with one another.
- At least on paper and in the standings. [↩]