The Cleveland Cavaliers returned to Oracle Arena for the first time since their game five loss in last season’s NBA Finals in which the Warriors won four games to one. It was a finals series that was dominated by Golden State. That series exposed two big weaknesses within the Cavaliers roster against the Warriors. Cleveland did not have the defenders to throw at new Warrior Kevin Durant. Also the Cavaliers bench was lacking scoring depth as well as a play maker to run the second unit.
The off season got off to a rocky start as Cleveland parted ways with general manager David Griffin…a move that was not received well by fans and some Cavaliers players including Lebron James. Griffin’s assistant Koby Altman was promoted to be his replacement.
Then came the big trade with Boston sending point guard Kyrie Irving to the Celtics in exchange for injured guard Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first round draft pick.
Many around the NBA wondered if the Cavaliers reign at the top was coming to an end especially after the team got off to a 5-7 start to the season. Cleveland has since answered those critics as they have gone 19-3 since including a 12 game winning streak.
On Christmas Day Cleveland got an opportunity to show what their revamped roster could do against the defending champs. Despite a 99-92 loss the Cavaliers showed that they are much better equipped to match up with the Warriors this season. After some disastrous shooting in the second and third quarters in which they hit on 9-43 (21%) from the field they only trailed the Warriors by four at 71-67. Cleveland finished shooting 32% for the game. Poor shooting was certainly a big reason for the loss but they only ended up losing by seven points after shooting such a low percentage.
The Cavaliers revamped bench who came into the game averaging over 40 points per game managed only 21 points going 6-26 from the field. It was their first poor performance in a long time. This season having a play maker in Dwyane Wade and the additional scoring depth off the bench will go a long way in helping Cleveland match up with the Warriors should they reach a fourth straight finals match up. The Cleveland bench boasts three players averaging double digits in scoring in Dwyane Wade (11.4), Jeff Green (10.6) and Kyle Korver (10.3).
With the Boston trade bringing in Jae Crowder and the free agent acquisition of Jeff Green the Cavaliers have two new defenders they can now throw at Kevin Durant. Both did a solid job on Durant yesterday holding him to 8-19 shooting from the floor. Having both of these solid wing defenders to guard Kevin Durant allows Lebron James to expend less energy on the defensive end.
Stephen Curry did not play in the game due to a sprained right ankle. The Cavaliers were also not at full strength. Isaiah Thomas will undoubtedly make a big impact on the offensive end once he returns. Thomas should make his debut either Wednesday night in Sacramento or Saturday night in Utah. Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert are also still on the shelf with injuries. It is not known how Rose (11.7 ppg) will fit into the rotation once he returns. He will most likely play off the ball as Wade entrenched as the play maker and primary ball handler for the second team. Shumpert is one of the Cavaliers strongest defenders and has done a nice job defending Curry in the past.
ABC’s broadcasters Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson both raved about the Cavaliers new and improved roster during yesterday’s game.
“Can you imagine anyone in the East right now beating Cleveland four out of seven games in the playoffs?” asked Van Gundy.
Without hesitation, Jackson replied, “no.”
“And that’s the problem,” Jackson continued. “Can they beat them once or twice…absolutely. But to beat this Cavaliers team, with the best player in the world, it’s a tough task.”
Mark Jackson also voiced his opinion on the pending return of high scoring guard Isaiah Thomas.
“Thomas gives them en entirely different weapon,” he said. “He can do a lot of the things that Kyrie Irving was able to do with this offense. He can carry this offense with LeBron on the floor, or without him on the floor. And also, down the stretch, the ability to create his own shots.”
There will most likely be a brief struggle initially as Thomas transitions into the Cavaliers offense and shakes off the rust.
The next game between the two teams on January 15th in Cleveland should look a lot different as Curry and Thomas will both be on the floor. Perhaps after that game we will have a better idea of where the Cavaliers stand but you can see from yesterday’s match up that Cleveland has more horses than they ever have had before to run with the Warriors.