Eight days after getting embarrassed by the Houston Rockets at Quicken Loans Arena, and in front of a national-television audience, the Cleveland Cavaliers made a clear statement and sent a message to other teams in the Eastern Conference Sunday.
Despite having to break in four new players after acquiring them in the final hours ahead of the NBA trade deadline Thursday, the Cavaliers (33-22) fought their way to a 121-99 win over the Boston Celtics (40-18) in front of a capacity crowd at TD Garden.
“I’m never surprised by anything, but the way we played the game tonight is the way we want to continue to play it,” Cavaliers small forward LeBron James said.
The unquestioned on-court leader of the team, James scored 24 points on nine-of-20 shooting, including a two-for-five showing from three-point range, pulled down eight rebounds, handed out 10 assists, blocked one shot and stole one pass.
In addition to James’ double-double, the Cavaliers got double-digit performances from forward Cedi Osman (12 points), Hill (12), shooting guard J.R. Smith (15), reserve forward Jeff Green (10), Clarkson (17) and Hood (15).
Clarkson and Hood each made three three-pointers in their debut with the Cavaliers, while Hood knocked down two shots from long distance.
“I know that the guys that are here, they’re very excited about this opportunity, and it’s my job to keep them excited about being here and joining something,” James said.
“Obviously, the last couple months haven’t been what we expected, but over the course of the four years since I came back, it’s been really good basketball. So, it’s my job as a leader of this team to make sure that I acclimate the new four guys to be around a culture that’s built around winning and built around championship habits.”
Although James and the Cavaliers handily defeated the Celtics Sunday, they still find themselves six games out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference and 5.5 games in back of Boston, who is currently in line for the No. 2 seed.
And James knows better than most that more efforts like the win over Boston will be needed in order for the Cavaliers to get where they want to go, which is back to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season.
“I think they’re playing better basketball than we are, especially for the majority of the season,” James said. “We’ve got some work to still do. We’re just coming together. The guys don’t know quite everything we want to do.
“We’ve got to have a lot of practice time, get that and watch a lot of film, so we’ve got some catching up to do, not only with Boston, but with Toronto, Philadelphia and a lot of other teams in the Eastern Conference and the rest of the league to try to get on a page where we feel like we’re confident enough to go out and win a playoff game.”