Only the most glass-half-full Ohioan would have dared think last week that the Cavaliers’ trade-deadline overhaul solved all the team’s problems. After all, we all know you can’t fix a deeply broken, defensively inept squad of misfits with just a few trades. But in watching Cleveland dismantle the Celtics 121-99 on Sunday afternoon, it was hard not to be optimistic about the Cavs’ ability to turn around their season.
LeBron James and company dominated Boston in every facet. They moved the ball unselfishly. They avoided turnovers. They knocked down open shots. They clamped down on defense, at least by their standards. The 121 points they dropped on the Celtics marked the most Boston had allowed all season. Overall, the Cavs looked less like the team that lost 14 of 21 from mid-December to the start of February and more like the team that has reached three consecutive NBA Finals.
Sunday’s game likely looked exactly what Cavs general manager Koby Altman imagined when he remade his team at last week’s deadline. All four of the team’s new additions played substantial minutes against the Celtics, with George Hill starting and submitting 12 points and, Larry Nance putting up five points and four rebounds, Rodney Hood scoring 15 and Jordan Clarkson pouring in 17. They all seemed to fit in strikingly, almost impossibly, well.
— NBA (@NBA) February 11, 2018
Just as important as the output of the new Cavs was the apparently rejuvenated performance from the incumbents, especially James. Despite sitting for the fourth quarter, LeBron finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, and his defensive intensity was notably higher than it had been in recent weeks. In the final minutes of the blowout win, James led the Cavs bench in exuberant celebrations of a 3-pointer by Clarkson and a powerful dunk by Nance. The King and his team displayed an energy that had been sorely lacking as the team slid.
Obviously the win over Boston was just one game, and the Cavs won’t regularly shoot 53.3 percent from behind the arc while holding their opponents to 24.3 percent. Their status as Eastern Conference front-runners remains somewhat tenuous. But Sunday marked a promising start to the post-deadline stretch of the season and a chance for the Cavs and their fans to finally feel hopeful again.