Despite getting his jersey hang up in the TD Garden rafters, Paul Pierce’s joy still fell short of the emotions going through Cleveland’s bearded maestro.
Little over 48 hours before the game, James was at the epicenter of a major flurry of midseason trades that shipped more than a third of team members out of Cleveland.
Gone were Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert-lumbering veteran players whose age and playing style didn’t mesh with LeBron’s.
Four players, in Los Angeles Lakers duo Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jnr. and former Utah Jazz teammates Rodney Hood and George Hill, came in as replacements and played well in Cavaliers 121-99 demolition of Celtics on their debuts. Getting a humiliating win over nemesis Pierce on his jersey retirement night and have the newbies perform well, was a rare double win for a team that has been through a lot of losses since late December.
Putting a dumper on the Truth’s big night was King James’ way to start the week and usher in a new phase. The Cavs take on Oklahoma City Thunder in its final game before the All Star festivities.
The timing couldn’t be better as a week’s break is quite a healthy period for the team to gel better than it showed against Boston.
Despite the impressive debuts by all four members and solid play from JR Smith with James missing a triple double after sitting out the entire fourth quarter, the Cavs need all the time to get familiar with each other. James midair pass to find Clarkson for a three point shot in Boston is far from an orchestrated play; rather it highlighted how the former Lakers Guard stroke from deep fits playing next to James.Prior to the trade, James would have opted for a layup attempt or dunk had anyone beside Kevin Love, Smith, Thomas or Kyle Korver spotted up on the weak side. Having non three point shooting Guards in Wade and Rose on the roster was not ideal setting the tone for one of many problems to bedevil the Cavs. With a few practice sessions under their belt, fans should expect a lot of such plays telegraphed to perfection.
Following the big win over second placed Eastern Conference side Boston, many expect the team to force its way back into the Conference title conversation. However, such expectations must be checked simply because it is just one game and such a sample is too small to make a sound deduction. Flukes happen in the NBA every time and with Boston preparing for one big party for Pierce, may be Boston players were struck by the enormous weight of living up to the jersey hence its poor performance on the night.
Like his former teammate, Irving sat out most parts of the fourth quarter with the game lost. As good as the Cavs played on Sunday, Boston gave them a hand in the win with poor offensive execution. Aside Al Horford and Irving, fellow starters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum struggled with their shot and Terry Rozier was the main spark plug off the bench. With little production from the second unit including midseason pickup Greg Monroe, Cleveland took care of business without much resistance in the third quarter and early minutes in the final quarter.
Cleveland Cavaliers pick and rolls defense on several possessions were a tad slow and Boston in the first half especially punished them for it. Defense was the major reason behind the trades and having coordinated play on that end is the sole way to improve. Individually, players fared well with Hill holding his own against Irving and taking a charge from Tatum after staying very close to him. Such plays went amiss before February 8 since Cleveland employed Rose and Thomas-Guards recovering from injury who are not good defenders in the first place.
It must be noted, the season is long and just a few weeks back, Cleveland ripped off 13 straight wins and looked set for another epic showdown with defending NBA Champions Golden State Warriors until they capitulated at the tail end of 2017. If 13 straight wins and a second place in the conference couldn’t get the job done, one game win doesn’t scratch the surface to gauge their readiness for the Conference Finals and possibly NBA Finals.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter