A week ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers were a team in disarray. From Lebron cussing out multiple team officials, to their team chemistry simply being off the hinges, it was extremely evident that they needed to make a move at the trade deadline and that’s exactly what they did.
Two games later, they are 2-0, defeating two teams that completely exposed the King and his soldiers earlier in the season. The addition of Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, and Rodney Hood served them better than the majority of the NBA world would’ve ever anticipated. At least this quickly.
Entering the matchup against Oklahoma City at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, there was a ton of speculation about what team would step on the floor for Cleveland. Well, the Thunder learned very quickly who the new-look Cavaliers are.
In the first matchup in Cleveland, OKC was clearly the dominant team. Yes, that was near the peak of Cleveland’s sorrows but the Thunder controlled that game through-and-through. Tuesday night, the Thunder held their own in the first quarter, scoring 28 points behind another dominant start from Steven Adams who scored 11 points and pulled down 5 offensive rebounds. The only bad thing about that?; Cleveland held their own as well, scoring 29 points of their own behind J.R. Smith’s 4-of-4 start from three for 12 points.
That ended up being the narrative for the entire game. Steven Adams continued to dominate the paint but Cleveland out-shot and out-hustled the Thunder, especially in the final minutes en route to a 120-112 victory.
What Cleveland did during the trade deadline period was improve their bench with players that may not have the ‘big’ names or big egos but have a lot of talent and upside, with positive, eager-to-learn personalities to go with it. The Cavs essentially went “positivity over talent.” However, for the second-straight game that talent matched their positive, unselfish attitude and outplayed the opposing team’s reserves when it mattered most.
Many of Cleveland’s players (James, Nance, and Clarkson) ranted and raved about Adams and how much he’s grown over his five-year NBA career both physically and mentally.
“He’s mentally tougher and physically stronger,” said Lebron James. “He’s more confident than he used to be.”
That’s completely true. Especially when he plays elite competition like he did against the Cavs, giving Tristan Thompson, one of the NBA’s best interior defenders and rebounders problems.
Adams finished the contest with 22 points and 17 rebounds, 12 of which were offensive. Not to mention his multiple trips to the free throw line where he shot 6-of-10, a respectable clip for him.
The fate of this game came down to who would make the biggest plays and despite Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combining for 70 points and 18 rebounds, OKC’s bench only combined for 20 points when Cleveland’s combined for 51. A complete mismatch.
Cleveland is back to being the favorite in the Eastern Conference despite the fact that they are five games behind the second-seeded Boston Celtics, with a now (34-22) record. It’s been proven; all Lebron needs is a little talent to make a run in the playoffs and he has a much more than a ‘little’ talent now.
As for the Thunder, they fall to (32-26) and hold onto the fifth-seed in the Western Conference with the only thing standing in front of them and the NBA All-Star break is the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.