Koby Altman should walk into the Cavaliers’ office on Monday blasting “The Man” from his Beats headphones. The new-look Cavs passed their first test run with flying colors, beating the Celtics 121-99 in Boston on Sunday. Altman’s new additions (George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood) combined for 49 points on 18-for-35 shooting (51.4 percent).
But the cavalry brought more than just raw production. Cleveland entered the matchup coming off two wins, including an overtime victory over Minnesota on Wednesday, but the energy on Sunday was unlike anything we’ve seen from the Cavaliers all season. Just a guess, but that might be what happens when young players replace older ones.
Clarkson, who is shooting 33.2 percent from 3 this season, posted up on the perimeter like a young Klay Thompson, hitting three of his four 3-point attempts. Hood, the former Jazz swingman, showed off his scoring ability with 15 points off the bench (second only to Clarkson’s 17 among reserves). And then there’s Nance; every dunk from the former Laker feels like a double shot of espresso:
Nance dunk + bench pic.twitter.com/Vqx8TZKuad— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) February 11, 2018
Cleveland is fun again!
But the most encouraging sign may have been what we didn’t see: LeBron James in the fourth quarter. The last time Cleveland won a game in which James sat the entire fourth was late November against Miami, as first noted by John Schuhmann of NBA.com. It was particularly relevant Sunday; James left the game in the first quarter after an apparent ankle tweak.
He later returned and, LeBron being LeBron, ended with 24 points, 10 assists, and eight boards in 28 minutes, which tied for the third-least he’s played all season.
After more than a month of hand-wringing and last rites, the Cavs finally look like a LeBron James team again.
Here are some more winners and losers for Sunday’s matinee game:
Loser: Aron Baynes and His Man Bun
J.R. dunking all over Aron Baynes pic.twitter.com/xuuoapU5y9— ESPN (@espn) February 11, 2018
Winner: The TD Garden Rafters
Paul Pierce receives a warm welcome as he returns to TD Garden! #ThankYouPaul pic.twitter.com/X4aKYNeOlH— NBA (@NBA) February 11, 2018
A large serving of pettiness was doled out leading up to Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement ceremony, but the Truth ultimately got his wish: Isaiah Thomas didn’t get a video tribute on his day. (How kind of the Cavaliers to trade IT three days prior.)
Still, Pierce’s postgame honor was a reminder of how special he was during his prime. For whatever reason, Pierce’s exceptional career isn’t properly celebrated these days. But Boston gave him the send-off that he deserved.
Here's the Celtics' tribute video for Paul Pierce (via @celtics) pic.twitter.com/Mzqc48nGNt— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 11, 2018
(After a Celtics beatdown, but all the same.)
Let’s take a live look at new Laker Isaiah Thomas pivoting from Boston shade to Cleveland shade:
LOLLLLL Isaiah Thomas just liked the video of Kyrie stepping back on LeBron #PettyWarz pic.twitter.com/D4Ped5Rfkw— LeRob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) February 11, 2018
IT wasn’t alone. While Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and Doc Rivers all showed up in Boston, Ray Allen was pictured golfing with George Lopez.
Looks like Ray Allen had other plans today. pic.twitter.com/FtHVabNNgg— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 11, 2018
Allen, let’s remember, wasn’t initially invited to the reunion for the Celtics’ 2007-08 title team. That group’s long drama continues.
Winner: Cedi’s Confidence
Maybe just lay it up next time Cedi pic.twitter.com/14Gd4BI6X7— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) February 11, 2018
Keep shooting (dunking?) your shot, rook.