BOSTON — It’s almost impossible to exceed LeBron James’ lofty expectations. But the Cleveland Cavaliers’ newcomers did just that — on Day One, no less.
Guards George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood and forward Larry Nance Jr. — all dispersed between three teams prior to Thursday’s flurry of trades — showed out in their Cavs debuts, contributing significantly to Cleveland’s 121-99 drubbing of the Celtics during “Paul Pierce Day” at TD Garden.
“It’s almost like the new guys have been here,” James said after the game. “It started with George, his on-the-ball pressure and just running the team, and then the three guys off the bench: Jordan is ready to score at any time, but his composure is great; Rodney plays with so much poise, and Larry was just controlling the rim and setting great pick-and-rolls.
“It was a good start for all of us. We’re a revamped team so far.”
It was an impressive performance indeed for a group that practiced together exactly once before Sunday’s game. Clarkson led the fresh faces with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, with Hood right behind him at 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Hill chipped in 12 while getting the start at point guard, while Nance added just five points but snagged four rebounds.
So, are these “revamped” Cavs going to start beating everyone by 20 points? Not necessarily. But it’s obvious this team has improved in several categories — starting with athleticism.
“Now we have at least four guys on the floor at any moment that can push the ball on the break, so when we rebound the basketball, we can push out on the break and can make plays,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after the game.
Clarkson led the charge in that department, helping Cleveland tally 12 fast-break points to Boston’s nine.
Clarkson, Hill and Hood also help the Cavs stretch the floor in ways it failed to do pre-trade deadline. James thrives with playmaking shooters around him, and Clarkson and Hood killed the C’s on the perimeter Sunday, combining to hit six 3-pointers.
The newcomers also are versatile, though, and that trait was evident on the defensive end. Boston shot just 26 percent from 3-point land, as the rangy, 6-foot-8 Hood and the solid, 6-foot-9 Nance helped Cleveland contest the shots it couldn’t prevent from going up.
“Just flying around, helping each other out was big,” Hood said. “When a guy got beat, a guy came over. We really talked well, and as we get to know the terminology … I think we’ll get that much better.”
Oh — and they’re also enjoying themselves again.
That’s a scary thought for Celtics fans, as “Cavs 2.0” left a very strong first impression on TD Garden observers.
Again, these guys aren’t going to shoot 53 percent from the floor and hit 16 3-pointers every night. But at first glance, this club looks more than capable of closing the six-game gap that now separates them and the first-place Celtics in the Eastern Conference — and making things very, very interesting this spring.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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