Rapid Reaction: The New Look Cavaliers
Much was (and will be) made of the Cavaliers’ big win over the Celtics on Sunday. It was our first look at their revamped team, overhauled at the trade deadline to reinvigorate the core group with some youth and athleticism (two things they greatly lacked at noon last Thursday).
And of course after one game there’s quite a bit of room for optimism. They looked fantastic: energized and spry on both ends of the court, even surviving a mini-scare in the first quarter when Lebron limped off the court unable to put weight on this right leg.
But he came back and the Cavaliers used a second and third quarter blitz of shooting to turn the game into a blowout. We don’t want to go overboard, they aren’t going to shoot 53% from three going forward. And the Celtics aren’t going to shoot 26% from beyond the arc either. As much as anything else, this was the story of the game. Regress those numbers even a little toward full season expectations and we have a much, much closer game.
So let’s not get too carried away with just one win. What is encouraging beyond just the lights out shooting, was how the new players gelled quickly playing with Lebron and the rest of the non-jettisoned Cavs.
They showed significantly increased intensity on defense, and spaced the floor well on the offensive end allowing for plenty of wide open looks. But the defense was their main issue going into the trade deadline. They ranked 28th in the league and were looking like a leaky sieve.
Here are a few examples of what the news guys brought to the table for Cleveland, specifically on the defensive end. They all come from the third quarter when the Cavs jumped out to their biggest lead.
Perimeter Guard Defense
One of the biggest issues Cleveland had with Thomas on the court was their perimeter defense left a lot to be desired (read: it was awful). They brought Hill in to solve some of those issues and here he starts to show why. He fights through the screen, doesn’t get all the way home and then recovers into the passing lane enough to negate a Morris wide open three. Hill then provides just enough resistance on the mismatch to force a weaker fadeaway.
Lebron - Free Safety
Lebron is in free safety mode which can only happen when he trusts the perimeter D and is confident he can close out on Morris before getting that elbow look. Kyrie gets it out of the trap and JR is stuck with Horford, but Lebron jumps the lane to avoid the corner three. Cavs get a little lucky with the timing, but Lebron is very dangerous operating like this.
Larry Nance Jr. in the mix
Larry Nance Jr. is one of the (if not the) most intriguing chip in the trade deals because of what he can provide on defense. This sequence is the thing that gets you really excited. He starts by challenging the Baynes entry pass, disrupting the initial flow. Then in the scramble for the ball he ends up with Kyrie, but Nance’s length and bounce denies the Irving reset even when Irving moves all the way back into no man’s land. This forces Morris into taking Lebron off the dribble at the end of the shot clock. He misses and the Cavs are off into transition (with Nance out in front)
Um, way more Larry Nance Jr.
This is the very next defensive sequence. Clarkson can’t get through the Baynes screen which should result in a two man dive to the basket except Nance denies Rozier’s downhill momentum AND recovers on to Baynes after the pass. He challenges Baynes into a rough look. This was my favorite sequence of the third quarter for Cleveland.
Again, it's just one game. We'll learn more as the season goes on and there will undoubtedly be hiccups. But Cleveland couldnt' have asked for a better start post-trade deadline.
- lebron: AP Images