The Cleveland Cavaliers went from down and out to Eastern Conference frontrunners – and it only took one game. That’s how impressive their 121-99 road win over the Celtics was Sunday.
Memo to Boston and Toronto: Look out. The Cavs are coming.
“I don’t know that they could have possibly have done a better job in terms of revamping their roster, addressing all their concerns and still keeping the Nets’ pick,” NBA analyst Greg Anthony said on The DA Show. “You got to really tip your hat to Koby Altman and what he was able to do – because he got great value for guys, and he got the things that are necessary. You look at the youth and athleticism, but sometimes what you forget about too is this group is much better at shooting the three-ball. They’re also much better at not being a focal point offensively – meaning they don’t have to try to revamp their system in order to integrate those guys.”
Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and George Hill combined to score 44 points on 16-of-30 shooting (.533) against Boston, including 8-of-14 (.571) from three.
“These guys, while they’re all very good players, they’re all high-level role players, so that will help them,” Anthony said. “Keep in mind you’re going to eventually get Kevin Love back, so you’re going to have another top-tier guy to add to that roster. . . . Big picture, I think these moves basically catapult them back to being the favorites in the Eastern Conference, although Toronto and Boston are going to be legit and it’s going to make it far more compelling as we head down the homestretch.”
The Cavs (33-22) trail Toronto (39-16) and Boston (40-18) by six and five-and-a-half games, respectively, in the East. Anthony believes the Raptors, as of now, would offer the Cavs stiffer postseason competition than the Celtics.
“I say that for this reason: I love Boston’s team, but it’s just hard for me to envision a team that can win a championship when your second-leading scorer gets 14 points a game,” Anthony said, referring to Jaylen Brown. “If you just look at it from a historical perspective, as good as they are defensively, Boston, they’re not a great offensive team. And in today’s era, you’re not going to hold a team under 100 points seven times or six times in a series.”
Indeed, the postseason could be when Gordon Hayward’s absence will be felt the most. He averaged between 19.3 and 21.9 points in his final three seasons in Utah.
“Not that Gordon Hayward was necessarily going to be a superstar, but he was a guy that was comfortable getting 20 a night,” “Anthony said. “In the playoffs, when you can affect a system and you can take away complementary players, you’re going to have stretches where you got to have a guy – or guys – that can go out and create offense when there’s duress, when there’s adversity, when there’s great defense. That’s going to be a concern for me with them.”
To be fair, Toronto’s second-leading scorer, Kyle Lowry, is averaging 16.4 points – so just 2.3 points more than Brown – and his postseason struggles are well-documented.
“He hasn’t been (a consistent scorer) in the postseason, so that’s still a concern,” Anthony said. “But I just think with how (the Raptors have) revamped their style, how much better they are offensively – they’re the third-best offensive team in the league right now. I think that bodes well for them. Still a lot of time yet to finish out the season, but I would give the nod today to Toronto.”