BOSTON — Got talent?
The Cleveland Cavaliers do, almost to the extent of embarrassment, as was evident in their 122-121 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday. For three quarters, the Celtics pushed the pace, moved the ball and stayed active on defense.
The Celtics did just about everything right. But the Cavs had the talent.
It wasn’t just that the Cavs bounced back from giving up 42 points in the third quarter and wiped out a 19-point Celtics advantage in LeBron James’ first game at TD Garden with his new, old team. It was how inevitable the Cavs’ victory felt when all the Celtics could do was desperately watch the game clock, hoping it would run out.
“The ‘guys’ for them looked like ‘guys’ when it mattered,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Right? I mean, Kyrie (Irving) was awesome, LeBron was awesome, and Kevin (Love) made some plays, too. They’ve got really good players and those guys did a good job when it was all on the line and they were behind.”
There are three big reasons to believe the Cavs, who improved their record to 4-3 with the win, will eventually get things sorted out and take their rightful place among the NBA’s elite. Those reasons’ names are James, Irving and Love, three players whose talent surpasses anything on the Celtics’ roster.
There are deserved questions as to whether coach David Blatt can formulate an offensive gameplan that capitalizes on all three stars’ abilities and a defensive gameplan that insulates the team from the obvious deficiencies Love and Irving possess at that end of the floor. Blatt readily admits the challenge ahead of him. Erik Spoelstra didn’t win two championships using only playground plays with James on the Miami Heat, and Blatt won’t be able to do so with the Cavs, either.
“Part of it is these guys adjusting to what I want to do, and part of it is me also adjusting to what their strengths are,” Blatt said before the game. “We’re trying to get to the point where we have a happy medium between what works best for this team. Of late, we’ve started to find out groove, at least offensively, and I hope that continues.”
The system is a work in progress, but Friday was a night for pure talent. Neither team shot well from beyond the arc, neither dominated the glass and neither was especially stingy or careless with the ball. Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field, and both boasted a star performing at a triple-double caliber level. (Rajon Rondo had six points, 16 assists and eight rebounds for the Celtics.)
The thrown-together Cavs simply wore down the Celtics, who seemed to be the ones wearing down the Cavs for most of the game. James finished with 41 points and seven assists, Love stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points and 15 rebounds, and Irving scored 15 of his 27 points in the final quarter to ignite Cleveland’s comeback.
Of course, there’s a vast difference between scraping past a Celtics squad that could be ticketed for the lottery and outlasting the Chicago Bulls or Toronto Raptors in May. If the Cavs are to become a true contender, Friday’s game can’t be an example of the heights they are capable of, but a warning of the depths they are susceptible to fall into in letting an overmatched opponent nearly knock them off.
“It’s a process, and we learn from it,” James said. “Our team, we have to see what we do well, what we don’t do so well. Right now, I feel like the young guys are like my kids. They’re not accustomed to reading textbooks. They like iPads. You’ve got to show them. That’s the process we’re in right now. You can’t just tell them, you’ve got to show them on film and see when we do it right, this is the result of it.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images