1. Before discussing what happened in the Celtics game, the change in the Cavs began a few days earlier. In Atlanta, Friday night. The Cavs had just made their three huge trades, shipping out six and adding four new players. None of the new guys played in Atlanta, but the Cavs beat the Hawks, 123-107.
2. That game was a preview of what was to come Sunday. With Isaiah Thomas gone, the ball was in the hands of LeBron James most of the time. Cedi Osman moved into the starting lineup. He is this team’s version of the defensive-minded Matthew Dellavedova. Jose Calderon started. He was once called a “traffic cop” by general manager Koby Altman. Calderon keeps the ball and his teammates moving in the right direction.
3. The Cavs held the Hawks to 43 percent shooting. They outrebounded Atlanta, 44-42. The Hawks are a bad team (18-39). But when the Cavs were in their funk, the quality of the opponent didn’t matter. They refused to hustle and defend. They were a cranky, creaky group on the court. Just remember their embarrassing 116-98 loss in Orlando last Tuesday, a game where the Cavs blew a 21-point lead.
Cavaliers’ Rodney Hood: Scores 15 points off bench
4. In that Atlanta game, Calderon played the role newcomer George Hill assumed starting Sunday. Hill is a point guard who can make 3-pointers, be a pest on defense and not dominate the ball. That type of point guard blends well with James, dating back to when he played with Dru Joyce III at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
Rodney Hood scores 15 points in 19 minutes in Cavaliers debut
5. Osman brings zest to the defense. The rookie from Turkey seems to have endless energy. He did a nice job on Kent Bazemore (4-of-9 shooting, 13 points). On Sunday, he chased Kyrie Irving (7-of-14 shooting, 18 points). For now, keep him in the starting lineup. He’s shooting .523 from the field and .378 on 3-pointers this season. He doesn’t shoot much. But he can make some open shots.
Rick Noland: Who are these guys? Sure, it’s just one game but Cavaliers now have a wow-worthy roster that puts them …
6. The Cavs aren’t running that many set plays, but there already is a sense of order with the offense. James is in control, doing his Magic Johnson triple/double imitation. His teammates are either cutting to the rim for passes or spreading out for 3-point shots. There is movement and spacing. It’s fun to watch.
7. Defensively, it’s about fresh legs and a renewed attitude. As Altman said on the night he made his huge trades, “It all starts with the Big Guy.” He meant James. And he said James is “rejuvenated.” And that was before the victories in Atlanta and Boston.
8. James is feeling it — as in, feeling he’s on a team that now can win the Eastern Conference. Newcomers Larry Nance and Hill (when healthy) can defend and are very unselfish. Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson can be solid on defense. They have added three 25-year-olds (Nance, Hood and Clarkson). The 31-year-old Hill should be revived after being traded from lottery bound Sacramento. Hill is a San Antonio Spurs-trained, unselfish player who is very valuable on a winning team.
9. A lot went right in Boston. Clarkson is a scorer — averaging 14.5 points in 23 minutes a game for the Lakers. The 6-foot-5 guard is not a good 3-point shooter (.324). But he drilled 3-of-4 from long range against the Celtics. He also made some strong moves to the rim. Give him 17 points in 23 electric minutes.
10. Hood is a smooth lefty shooter and he was outrageously open all game. He could really benefit from playing with James and all the defensive attention the Cavs star receives. Hood scored 15 points in 19 minutes off the bench.
So I think they– I think Cleveland separated from Boston. And I think Cleveland absolutely closed the gap on Golden State. Because I think even with Brad Stevens, you look at the offensive numbers for Boston, they're just limited. 19-year-old Jayson Tatum. Al Horford gives you 14 a night. If Kyrie Irving is not hitting, there are nights Boston falls into a deep, dark abyss and they can't get out from it. I mean, they trail by double digits a lot. And that's when, like, Kyrie's not hitting, Boston's limited offensively.
11. J.R. Smith is playing more determined defense. He is shooting with more confidence. In his last three games, he’s averaging 14 points and is 10-of-18 from 3-point range. The players who were here before the deals can sense something good is happening.
OK. That is seven legitimate– I'm not mentioning– did I mentioned LeBron? That's seven to eight legitimate offensive scorers. Kevin Love's 20-plus, LeBron, JR, Korver, George Hill, Rodney Hood. Boston doesn't match up. I'm not even mentioning Jeff Green off the bench, who can get really hot. He's having a great year. So I mean, to me, it's just not an age thing. You added Rodney Hood and George Hill. You can't teach what they can do, potentially, playing with LeBron.
12. The Cavs were desperately looking for a starting lineup that plays well early in games. Adding Osman to the mix has been a major boost because of his defense and hustle. The Cavs played well early in the season when Calderon started, and that should continue now that they have Hill. James is orchestrating everything. Can’t wait to see how they play Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
BOSTON — Rumblings out of Utah have come out slowly, building up ahead of this year’s trade deadline, which was the best chance for the Jazz to nudge out guard Rodney Hood before he hits restricted free agency and a probable big payday this summer. Hood, it was whispered, won’t play hurt. He’ll milk his injuries. He is Charmin-soft.
He is aware of all that chatter. It happens in the NBA — very often traded players leave their old teams with a set steak knives wedged into their backs as a parting gift. In Hood’s case, he’s got 28 games plus the postseason to show that the perception of him left after he departed Utah isn’t quite right.
“It just makes you want to prove yourself even more,” Hood said. “I do feel like I have a lot of prove here as part of this team.”
One game in, and the proof looks pretty good. With virtually no knowledge of the playbook, Hood chipped in 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting in 18 minutes on Sunday, helping the Cavaliers drub the Celtics in Boston, 121-99.
Hood joined his new team carrying a chip on his shoulder. That’s something that was missing with Cleveland before the team made a flurry of moves at the trade deadline, moves that left the Cavs with four new players, three of whom are just 25. Before the deadline, the Cavs were not just old — they were complacent. There were few among the group who had much to prove.
That’s not so with the quartet of Hood, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and George Hill. There is some edge to these guys after these trades, a reason to be miffed at the league. The Lakers were pushing a Clarkson trade almost immediately after he signed a new contract with the team. Hill signed with Sacramento last summer after getting a promise that the team would contend for the playoffs, only to find the team tanking by the end of his first month in town.
Nance has his own motivations. He will now be playing for the same franchise as his father, whose No. 22 has been retired and hangs from the rafters. Cavs general manager Koby Altman said after the trade that Nance was “borderline in tears (of joy)” when he called to tell him he was coming to Cleveland. Nance laughed that off, saying, “I’m more of a man than that.”
The new guys had an impressive day against Boston, which is now only four games in the loss column ahead of the Cleveland for second in the conference. In all, they scored 49 points on 18-for-35 shooting and 8-for-15 shooting from the 3-point line, and they did not wilt under the pressure of playing in a national TV game in an amped-up TD Garden.
“Just to come out and get a win, that was the biggest thing, especially in this kind of atmosphere,” Hood said. “Get thrown in the fire a little bit, playing against a Boston team I am pretty sure we will see down the line. It was fun.”
There were open shots aplenty for the new Cavs, and there will be more of those as they adjust to playing alongside Cavs star LeBron James. Two of the six 3-pointers Hood attempted came without a defender within 10 feet of him, for example. Two others came when he was open, and only two were truly contested.
According to NBA.com stats, Cleveland sharpshooter Kyle Korver has taken 60 percent of his 3s either open (defender within four-to-six feet) or wide open (no defender within six feet). In Utah, 39 percent of Hood’s 3s came either open or wide open. If he gets the Korver treatment from defenses, his perimeter shooting should get a boost.
Of course, the Celtics are in a bit of a tailspin now, and one February game does not mean much in the context of a season. Other than Hill, the new Cavs have very little postseason experience — Hood played 11 postseason games last year, and shot terribly (35.2 percent from the field, 26.0 percent from the 3-point line), while Clarkson and Nance have never been to the playoffs. There’s no telling how they’ll handle the pressure of the stretch run for Cleveland, and the playoffs.
Clarkson said the new group is coming in with a clear understanding of the goal in Cleveland, particularly when it comes to James. If there’s a lack of playoff experience, he knows that’s no excuse.
“You’re out there on the floor for a purpose,” he said. “We’re out there to win. I know he got one goal, he wants to win that chip. We’re here to help, do our job.”
After the game on Sunday, Hood conceded that he had butterflies coming in. “Oh, I was very nervous,” he said. He added that the nerves went away quickly, but just the fact that they were there to begin with is something that can be a positive for this Cavs team.
Too many of the guys Cleveland dealt away last week played the first half of the season like they were fat and happy, shrugging off their defensive failings and pointing fingers at each other for the team’s problems. The Cavs are hoping that complacency has been eradicated, and if it is replaced by some butterflies in the belly, that’s a good thing. That means these guys care.
Cleveland did not just get four new players in the deals made last week. They got a heap of chips-on-shoulders. As the team tries to turn things around before the stretch run, those chips might be this team’s most important acquisition.