If you’re at all like me, two thoughts kept running through your head Sunday afternoon as you watched the Cavaliers dismantle Ky-me Irving and the Boston Celtics on ABC.
The first was, “Wow!”
The second was, “Is this really the Cavs that I’m watching?”
The first is totally understandable, while the second is only partially true, because these are the “new-look” Cavs you’ll be watching the rest of the season.
Granted, it was only one game, but Cleveland’s 121-99 dismantling of the Celtics showed just how great a job general manager Koby Altman did in revamping his walking-dead roster prior to the trade deadline.
New point guard George Hill played more defense in his first game with the Cavs than Isaiah Thomas played in 15.
Instead of going one-on-one like Dwyane Wade or Derrick Rose or standing in the corner and either doing nothing or missing 3-pointers like Jae Crowder, new guards Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood looked like perfect complements to an obviously rejuvenated LeBron James.
Larry Nance Jr. came exactly as advertised: He plays hard, doesn’t care about shots and he rebounds, defends and finishes at the rim exceedingly well.
Even the holdovers seem to have new life.
The 33-year-old James suddenly has pep in his step again and seems to relish the opportunity to have younger, more athletic and hungrier players to mentor.
Cedi Osman continues to show he deserves minutes, while J.R. Smith, after a season-and-a-half-long funk, finally looks motivated — at both ends of the court — again.
And, for one game anyway, coach Tyronn Lue handled his new roster beautifully, something he struggled to do previously when most or all of his options were available.
Now, this is not to say every game will go as seamlessly as the first one. Heck, the allegedly needed adjustment period could surface as early as tonight when the Cavs conclude pre-All-Star break play in Oklahoma City.
That being said, Altman’s deadline deals were much-needed strokes of genius. This applies as much to what he got rid of (outside of pro’s pro Channing Frye) as to what he got.
Iman Shumpert, we won’t even discuss, because he was already a forgotten man in Cleveland.
As for Rose, I’m not sure that he’s sure he even wants to play basketball anymore, outside of continuing to collect on a lucrative shoe deal with adidas.
Frye’s 3-point shooting, locker room presence and size will be missed — the currently undersized Cavs will definitely be looking to add a big man or two with Kevin Love out — but if that’s the price Altman had to pay to add Clarkson and Nance, so be it.
I never had a big problem with Wade’s performance — and I never picked up on any of the alleged locker room issues now surfacing — but he wasn’t in the greatest shape and seemed to have lost a little hunger.
The biggest addition by subtraction came from dealing Thomas and Crowder (kudos to Boston’s Brad Stevens for getting all he got out of them, by the way).
The 5-foot-9 Thomas was — and still is — such a horrible defender he made Irving look decent in that area. Ditto for knowing when to (attempt to) create his own offense and when to share the ball.
For proof of the latter, see any of the handful of pictures or videos of James with the ball in attack mode at the 3-point line, with Thomas frantically waving his arms in the background because he’s open 40 feet from the hoop.
We are talking about a guy who was — and still is — way more concerned about landing a big-time contract in free agency than winning. I’m not saying I.T. didn’t want to win in Cleveland, but he wanted to win only if it also suited his personal agenda.
The only reason Crowder wasn’t worse than his former Cavs and Celtics teammate was because he frequently didn’t do anything at all.
Rebounding appeared to have lost all importance to him, as had defense, making hustle plays, putting the ball on the floor or, for that matter, doing anything other than jacking up 3-pointers like he actually could shoot.
But just when it looked like the Cavs might not even reach the Eastern Conference finals, let alone win them for a fourth straight season, Altman struck gold.
Hill probably isn’t going to average the dozen points he scored against Boston and his assist numbers will be low — he only had one Sunday — but he will defend, get the Cavs into an offense and play intelligently and unselfishly (I.T. usually went 0-for-4 in those categories).
Clarkson isn’t going to go 7-for-11 from the field and 3-for-4 on 3-pointers every game, like he did against the Celtics, but he can create his own shot and will run and compete all game, every game.
The 6-8 Hood will appear a tad soft at times, but his 3-point shooting and overall offensive game will blend in perfectly.
Nance shouldn’t be judged by any sort of offensive statistics. Rather, watch how he pursues rebounds and particularly how he helps and recovers on defense, because he’s one of the most underrated players in the league in the latter area.
Where this all will end, no one really knows. But the Cavs suddenly have the talent to four-peat in the East — heck, in a perfect world, they could tear through it again — and reach the NBA Finals.
Whether they are good enough to beat Golden State or Houston once there, I’m not so sure, but given where they were less than a week ago, the fact I even brought up the subject is another reason to think, “Wow!”
Because, yes, these are the Cavaliers you’ll be watching the rest of the season.
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