There were some extra eyes on the Cleveland Cavaliers' national TV matchup with the Boston Celtics on Sunday, as the four new players that Cleveland picked up before the trade deadline made their debuts.
The results? As Larry David would say, prettttty, pretttttyyyyy good.
The Cavs blew out the Celtics, 121-99 (box score), and signaled to the league that they're back in contention for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. LeBron James had 24 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in a game that really wasn't close after the first quarter.
Here are some takeaways from the game.
Maybe it was the fact that they exchanged six players with an average age of 31 for four players with an average age of 27. Maybe it was just the injection of new blood, no matter what age. But the Cavs played with a sustained energy that we haven't seen from them since, well, last postseason. Youngsters and oldsters alike were flying around the court, helping each other up off the court and exploding off the bench to congratulate their teammates.
.@KingJames is all of us right now. #THELAND! pic.twitter.com/DpAOiq3cYr— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) February 11, 2018
This tends to happen when there's a major shakeup with the team (big trade, coach firing, etc.), but it clearly led to an impressive showing from the new-look Cavs.
Oh yeah, defense
The youthful energy was most apparent on the defensive end, where the Cavs have been pretty much the worst team in the league all season. The Celtics aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut, but this is a Cleveland team that had given up an average of 120 points over its last four games. Allowing 92 to the Celtics is basically a shutout.
The addition of George Hill and Cedi Osman to the starting lineup certainly helped, but even J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and LeBron showed a renewed sense of focus on the defensive end.
.@TheRealJRSmith is 🔐 for #CavsCeltics!#AllForOne pic.twitter.com/2OWjIiMKy7— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) February 11, 2018
Now we'll just have to see if the Cavs can keep it up once the luster of the trade wears off.
No LeBron? Not as big of a problem
Particularly with Kyrie Irving in Boston and Kevin Love recovering from a broken hand, the Cavs have been pretty much a one-man show recently. But when LeBron went to the bench in the first quarter after banging knees with Aron Baynes, Cleveland held its own against one of the best teams in the NBA. Led by Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr., the second unit was outscored by only two points with LeBron on the bench. The reserve scoring gives the Cavs some hope that they might actually be able to get James, second in the league at 37.1 minutes per game heading into Sunday, some much-needed rest as the playoffs draw near.
Cavs gain upper hand
The Cavs always had the pedigree of three straight NBA Finals working for them, but at least the Celtics could say that they were, without a doubt, the superior regular-season team. But then Cleveland came into the Garden in a national TV game and completely wiped the floor with the Celtics in the first game with a brand new roster. That has to take away a bit of the mental advantage Boston might have had going into a potential playoff matchup. Psychology aside, the Cavs take the season series, 2-1, with Sunday's win. That means if it comes down to a tie in record, the Cavs will have the edge over Boston, and home-court advantage for any potential series.