Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
LeBron James finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.
The quartet of Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, George Hill and Larry Nance Jr. made its Cavs debut after arriving in deadline-day trades Thursday. Clarkson led the four in scoring with 17 points, while Hood and Hill chipped in with 15 and 12.
ESPN Stats & Info shared the shot chart from Clarkson, Hood, Hill and Nance:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Welcome to the Cavaliers!
Cleveland’s four new additions shot 18-of-35 including 8-of-15 from 3 in their debut.
They were 4-of-6 off passes from LeBron James. https://t.co/laABxPwP2T
Kyrie Irving posted 18 points and five assists in his third game against his old team.
Sunday’s victory gave the Cavs the season series against the Celtics after the teams split their first two meetings.
The Cavs all but spoiled a celebration for Celtics legend Paul Pierce, who was to have his jersey retired after the game. The home fans grew restless as Cleveland broke the contest open in the second half, and they called for Pierce to get a jersey back on to help his old team, per Celtics Wire’s Jared Weiss:
Jared Weiss @JaredWeissNBA
Crowd chanting “We want Paul Pierce” as Celtics go into a timeout down 27. They might as well just start the ceremony now.
Pierce cut a forlorn figure as he sat in the front row for the blowout:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Happy Paul Pierce Day, Celtics fans 🍀 https://t.co/KVcuTEI76x
The Cavs added some much-needed perimeter shooting in their flurry of trades Thursday. Hood was hitting a career-best 38.9 of his three-pointers entering Sunday, and Hill was third in the NBA in three-point percentage (45.3).
The Washington Post‘s Tim Bontemps said the new pieces will more easily enable head coach Tyronn Lue to put together lineups that stretch the floor around James:
Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps
Obviously it’s early for this new Cavs group, but this team looks like the Cavs again. LeBron surrounded by at least three shooters at all times. That’s always going to be the best way to maximize his skills.
Dahntay Jones spent two seasons in Cleveland, including the one that ended with the Cavs’ victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. He offered his take on what had changed with the roster shakeup:
The difference between selfish and selfless players. Take notice
Cleveland led 64-52 at halftime after it shot 53.5 percent from the field, including 6-of-12 from beyond the arc.
The Cavs, though, had a scary moment in the first half when James limped to the sideline after banging knees with Celtics big man Aron Baynes. The four-time MVP missed a little over eight minutes of game time while trainers worked on his right knee.
James returned and hardly missed a beat, scoring 13 points in the final 8:07 of the second quarter. The Action Network’s Matt Moore marveled at James’ recuperative powers:
Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball
LeBron sprains his knee/ankle/whatever: Comes back and starts dropping deep 3’s vs. the best defense in the league
I sprain my knee/ankle/whatever: Gonna have some ice cream and a nap been a bad day
Sunday’s game continued what has been a rough stretch for the Celtics. According to NBA.com, Boston has the best defensive rating (99.6) but the second-worst offensive rating (101.1) from Jan. 1 on. Since Jan. 11, the Celtics are 6-8. Sunday also marked the fifth straight game in which Boston failed to eclipse the century mark during regulation.
The Celtics can’t expect to beat the best teams in the Eastern Conference when Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combine to shoot 6-of-20 and score 14 points.
The Cavs defense remains a work in progress, but Hill showed why he could be such an impactful acquisition with dogged defending on the perimeter. The veteran point guard played a big role in Boston’s shooting just 10-of-38 (26.3 percent) from three-point range. The Celtics are shooting 36.8 percent from distance this season.
The Boston Globe‘s Adam Himmelsbach succinctly hit on the biggest difference between the new Cavs and the team Cleveland had been for most of this season:
Adam Himmelsbach @AdamHimmelsbach
The new Cavs actually…play *some* defense.
The Cavaliers are 28th in the NBA in defensive rating (109.7), per NBA.com, and they’ve endured stretches in which their opponents scored at will—giving up 148 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 20 and allowing the Orlando Magic to score 41 points in the third quarter Feb. 6.
Considering how good its offense is, Cleveland doesn’t need to have an elite defense in order to claim its fourth straight Eastern Conference title. A league-average defense would be a significant jump for the Cavs.
This was only one game, and much can change between now and spring. But Cleveland should only continue to improve with more practice and more time to build on-court chemistry. Kevin Love will come back from his broken hand at some point, too.
Last year, eight total points separated the Cavaliers and Celtics in their first three meetings before Cleveland blew out Boston 114-91 with five games left in the regular season. The final matchup proved prophetic, as the Cavs beat the Celtics in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals, winning by 20 points per game.
Sunday’s game could be a turning point for Cleveland, which looked like the East’s best team for arguably the first time this year.
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