Anderson: OK, the Cavs are a little scary (again)

Ty Anderson
February 12, 2018 - 6:29 pm

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

With the exception of a Gordon Hayward injury ruining opening night’s head-to-head, it’s been far too easy to laugh at the Cleveland Cavaliers from our East-ruling Boston post.

On top of being a billion years old as a team, LeBron James looked like he had one foot out the door, head coach (in name only) Ty Lue’s courtside reactions to his woefully unbalanced roster’s nightly performances had become a GIF-maker’s dream, and Isaiah Thomas appeared to be a legitimate double agent prior to his trade out of The Land.

But after enduring a back-to-reality Sunday beatdown from LeBron and the Cavaliers, and with the four new faces brought into the Cleveland mix looking capable after zero practices, I have to admit: I’m back to being more than a little afraid of this Cavs team.

Let’s first recognize the obvious unlikely-to-repeat negatives for the Celtics in this loss…

Playing in their third game in four days, the Celtics were a tired-playing bunch, and looked the part of a team simply trying to limp their way into the All-Star break. You’ve seen this with the Warriors, and it’s finally hitting the Celtics. At least if we’re to read into these recent blowout losses. It also seems unlikely that we’ll see another 20 minutes plus scoreless stretch from Jaylen Brown. Nor will we consistently see a 33.3 percent shooting night from behind the arc -- and 1-for-12 mark from the backcourt tandem of Brown and Kyrie Irving -- from the Boston starting five. And I have a feeling that Semi Ojeleye is not going to jack up four of the worst looking three-point attempts I’ve ever seen when these games truly matter in May. In fact, if we can take some preventative measures to make sure that this doesn’t happen, I have to think it’d be for the best.

But the Cavaliers? They could, and conceivably will, get better.

When you get beyond the star-powered names and past contributors -- Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder, and Channing Frye -- it’s obvious that these trades have made the Cavs more competitive.

George Hill, acquired as the league’s best three-point shooter, is an obvious upgrade over a noticeably-behind-schedule Thomas, ancient Rose, and Jose Calderon. Hill, who finished Sunday with 12 points in 21 minutes, has been to the Eastern Conference Finals twice in his NBA career, and will only get better as he adjusts to James.

Rodney Hood, meanwhile, is a superior off-the-bench scorer than Wade, Crowder, or Shumpert. He proved it with an effective 6-for-11 showing for 15 point in 18 minutes. And the athleticism and range of Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. are welcomed boosts to a Cleveland attack that had never been more predictable.

You saw these upgrades pay off their transition offense, as well as their ability to create seperation from Boston’s league-best defense for wide-open looks (and makes). The pace that that transition offense can bring back to the Cavaliers is also huge, as the Celtics have noticeably struggled to play in up-tempo games of late. That likely comes back to the C's lack of a go-to scorer behind Kyrie thanks to Hayward's believe-to-be-season-ending injury.

You also saw Cleveland help with some actual defense played for the first time all season. And that improved range wingspan on the outside is really exactly what the Cavs needed given the ‘position-less’ units Celtics coach Brad Stevens has rolled out this season, with players like Brown and Jayson Tatum’s size and speed proving difficult for most.

But most of all, bringing these players gets the Cavaliers back to where they need to be come playoff time, and that’s a team that goes through LeBron. Period.

While it looked good on paper -- and though it’s worked in the past with teams in Boston, Miami, and Golden State -- the Cavaliers looked a team that had a roster full of guys that needed the ball and needed to be the one to make the big plays. It made sense when you realized that LeBron’s new supporting cast was made up entirely of players that were accustomed to being the focal point of their team’s offense.

And James, hobbling and all after a first quarter collision with the Celtics’ Aron Baynes, returned to his typical Garden form with 24 points and 10 assists in just 27 minutes.

It’s just one game, and we cannot stress this enough, I know.

But the idea of a team flowing through LeBron and with players accepting that and knowing their role in a seven-game series with the Celtics? That’s no laughing matter.

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