LeBron James, New-Look Cavaliers Crush Kyrie Irving, Celtics as 4 Players Debut

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2018

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11:  Lebron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers is guarded by Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter of a game at TD Garden on February 11, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The new-look Cleveland Cavaliers earned a 121-99 road win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday at TD Garden.

LeBron James finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.

The quartet of Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, George Hill and Larry Nance Jr. made its Cavs debut after arriving in deadline-day trades Thursday. Clarkson led the four in scoring with 17 points, while Hood and Hill chipped in with 15 and 12.

ESPN Stats & Info shared the shot chart from Clarkson, Hood, Hill and Nance:

Kyrie Irving posted 18 points and five assists in his third game against his old team.

Sunday's victory gave the Cavs the season series against the Celtics after the teams split their first two meetings.

The Cavs all but spoiled a celebration for Celtics legend Paul Pierce, who was to have his jersey retired after the game. The home fans grew restless as Cleveland broke the contest open in the second half, and they called for Pierce to get a jersey back on to help his old team, per Celtics Wire's Jared Weiss:

Pierce cut a forlorn figure as he sat in the front row for the blowout:

The Cavs added some much-needed perimeter shooting in their flurry of trades Thursday. Hood was hitting a career-best 38.9 of his three-pointers entering Sunday, and Hill was third in the NBA in three-point percentage (45.3).

The Washington Post's Tim Bontemps said the new pieces will more easily enable head coach Tyronn Lue to put together lineups that stretch the floor around James:

Dahntay Jones spent two seasons in Cleveland, including the one that ended with the Cavs' victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. He offered his take on what had changed with the roster shakeup:

Cleveland led 64-52 at halftime after it shot 53.5 percent from the field, including 6-of-12 from beyond the arc.

The Cavs, though, had a scary moment in the first half when James limped to the sideline after banging knees with Celtics big man Aron Baynes. The four-time MVP missed a little over eight minutes of game time while trainers worked on his right knee.

James returned and hardly missed a beat, scoring 13 points in the final 8:07 of the second quarter. The Action Network's Matt Moore marveled at James' recuperative powers:

Sunday's game continued what has been a rough stretch for the Celtics. According to NBA.com, Boston has the best defensive rating (99.6) but the second-worst offensive rating (101.1) from Jan. 1 on. Since Jan. 11, the Celtics are 6-8. Sunday also marked the fifth straight game in which Boston failed to eclipse the century mark during regulation.

The Celtics can't expect to beat the best teams in the Eastern Conference when Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combine to shoot 6-of-20 and score 14 points.

The Cavs defense remains a work in progress, but Hill showed why he could be such an impactful acquisition with dogged defending on the perimeter. The veteran point guard played a big role in Boston's shooting just 10-of-38 (26.3 percent) from three-point range. The Celtics are shooting 36.8 percent from distance this season.

The Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach succinctly hit on the biggest difference between the new Cavs and the team Cleveland had been for most of this season:

The Cavaliers are 28th in the NBA in defensive rating (109.7), per NBA.com, and they've endured stretches in which their opponents scored at will—giving up 148 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 20 and allowing the Orlando Magic to score 41 points in the third quarter Feb. 6.

Considering how good its offense is, Cleveland doesn't need to have an elite defense in order to claim its fourth straight Eastern Conference title. A league-average defense would be a significant jump for the Cavs.

This was only one game, and much can change between now and spring. But Cleveland should only continue to improve with more practice and more time to build on-court chemistry. Kevin Love will come back from his broken hand at some point, too.

Last year, eight total points separated the Cavaliers and Celtics in their first three meetings before Cleveland blew out Boston 114-91 with five games left in the regular season. The final matchup proved prophetic, as the Cavs beat the Celtics in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals, winning by 20 points per game.

Sunday's game could be a turning point for Cleveland, which looked like the East's best team for arguably the first time this year.

Related

    Report: Cavs Sign Guard Marcus Thornton to 10-Day Deal

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: Cavs Sign Guard Marcus Thornton to 10-Day Deal

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Dubs-Kings Preseason Game to Be Played in Seattle

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: Dubs-Kings Preseason Game to Be Played in Seattle

    Rob Goldberg
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Kawhi Cleared to Play but Opting to Remain Out

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: Kawhi Cleared to Play but Opting to Remain Out

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    NBA Scout: I 'Still Believe' in Trae Despite Slump

    NBA logo
    NBA

    NBA Scout: I 'Still Believe' in Trae Despite Slump

    Jonathan Wasserman
    via Bleacher Report