The Cleveland Cavaliers are good. When they have their full complement of players, and LeBron James plays like LeBron James, they are rounding into a destructive force. The Cavs have their sights on a run for a title.
Increasingly, that looks possible.
The Cavaliers ran the Celtics out of the building tonight, 110-79.
Sure, this was the Boston Celtics. They will struggle to make it into the Eastern Conference playoffs. They had, however, won three of four games, the only loss a heartbreaker to the Golden State Warriors. Since February 3rd they have the NBA's 12th best offense. That's not anything crazy, but this wasn't a team looking to just roll over either.
Score at the end of the third quarter? Your Cleveland Cavaliers, 95. The Boston Celtics, 53. The Cavaliers are beginning to win with defense, and they don't have to do anything fancy on offense to be among the best in the NBA. LeBron James was phenomenal in this game, scoring 27 points in just 26 minutes. He sprinkled in five assists, three steals, and three rebounds for good measure. He even made a couple free throws.
And of course it's good to have Kyrie Irving back. He was hyper efficient, scoring 18 points on 10 shots, handing out four assists to two turnovers and coming up with a couple steals. The Cavs went through stretches where LeBron led the bench unit and things got stagnant, but the defense was good enough that they just continued to pull away. When Irving, James, and Kevin Love shared the floor, the ball moved and points were plentiful.
This was a great defensive game all the way around. Irving, Love, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith all played fantastic on that end. Nearly every shot was contested. James likes to play quarterback of the defense and gamble a little bit. He can do that now without the team getting burned so consistently.
The Cavs' two headed monster at the center position was particularly strong in this game. Mozgov had 10 points, six rebounds, three blocks, and three assists in just 20 minutes. Thompson had 10 points on just four shots with seven rebounds in 17 minutes. I'm not sure it's worth arguing about their minutes. They both are functional players who are good in certain matchups. Their skillsets, defensively, don't overlap a ton. David Blatt has the ability to play matchups and go with the flow of a game.
What's not to like?
Two guys I thought had struggled without Irving playing were very good tonight. Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith. 12 points and four rebounds while playing great defense for Smith, and Delly didn't overdo it at all. He was 0-6 from the field but handed out seven assists without a single turnover. For a weeknight game against a rebuilding Celtics team, that's enough.
See you tomorrow for what should be an interesting game with the Toronto Raptors.