The Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the Celtics in Boston on Sunday, and already – after just one game – many NBA analysts believe that the new-look Cavs have righted the ship and are once again among the league’s elite.
“I bought in before they even played a game,” AP NBA writer Brian Mahoney said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I’m not saying they’re better than Golden State or Houston, but as far as (winning) the East, when they made those moves, maybe they don’t have enough time to get great chemistry, but they had bad chemistry. I think whatever they get now is going to be better than what they had. I think they’re going to be freed up to play good basketball.”
Sunday couldn’t have gone much better for Cleveland. Seven Cavs finished in double figures – including newbies Jordan Clarkson (17), Rodney Hood (15) and George Hill (12) – and LeBron James scored 24 points in just 28 minutes. Cleveland shot 53.6 percent from the floor and defended with energy, limiting Boston to 40.4 percent shooting from the floor, including 10-of-38 (26.3 percent) from three.
This was all without Kevin Love, who is recovering from a broken hand.
“Kevin Love will come back,” Mahoney said. “He was having an All-Star year, so it’s like adding a fifth new player. I just think we’re going to see the version of Cleveland that we thought we were going to see earlier in the year.”
The Cavs (33-22) trail Toronto (39-16) and Boston (40-18) by six and five-and-a-half games, respectively, in the East. The Celtics have been in a funk since mid-January. They started 34-10 but are 6-8 over their last 14 games.
Mahoney isn’t surprised.
“I think they always were playing a little better than what they really are this year,” he said. “I think they do still need one more offensive piece. I’m not sure they’re going to be able to get it. I think Kyrie Irving has to play at an MVP-type level for them to really have a shot at this here.”
Irving is averaging 24.6 points and 5.0 assists. He is the only Celtic averaging more than 15 a game.
“I just don’t think there’s enough other scoring,” Mahoney said. “They rely on a lot of young guys, a lot of good defensive players. It’s a great team, but I don’t think it’s one that is a potent team. If Cleveland is at their best – and maybe even Toronto – I think they’re a little bit better than Boston is. Maybe they can still find it again, but I don’t think they were ever quite as good as they looked earlier in the year.”