During last Thursday’s trade deadline the Cleveland Cavaliers did something that has only been done once in the past 30 years – they traded away six players on their current roster, revamping the team to give it a younger and new look around the 33-year-old LeBron James.
The only other time this was done in the last three decades – the 2008 Cavaliers trying to bolster their team around, you guessed it – a young and star-studded James.
The first half of the season was one to forget for Cleveland. They played some of the worst defense ever seen on a James-lead team, and the turmoil within the locker room may have led to the departure of some of those players at the trade deadline.
Now, Cleveland has a young and athletic team, with players like Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood joining the squad and significantly bringing down the Cavaliers’ average age.
Those additions, along with the addition of veteran guard George Hill, proved to be a great combination of offensive fluidity last Sunday evening against the Boston Celtics.
Not only did Cleveland enter the TD Garden and beat the Celtics handily with a 22-point victory, but they also put a damper on a night used to honor Celtics-great Paul Pierce and gave the Celtics community a reason to worry about what will happen down the backstretch of the 2017-18 NBA season.
Ever since the London trip in early January, the Celtics have found themselves in a rut. They are 6-8 since playing in 02 Arena on Jan. 11, and as of late the team continually find itself climbing back from large deficits because of shorts spurts of bad play.
But it was the deficit that the Celtics were unable to overcome Sunday evening against Cleveland that is the most worrisome.
After the loss to Indiana Friday night the Celtics were no longer the No. 1 seed of the Eastern Conference, with the Toronto Raptors sharing the reins of first place after quietly trailing behind Boston in the standings for most of the season. With the Celtics loss on Sunday, the Raptors are now in sole possession of first place, but this is not what should worry Celtics fans.
Here is the way I look at it: Toronto seems to always be in the mix when it comes to the best teams in the East, but just like the Pittsburgh Steelers (whom I find to be the Raptors’ NBA comparison) they always manage to find a way to lose when it matters the most. With that being said, that does not mean they cannot have an impact on Boston for the remainder of the regular season.
As of today, the Cavaliers are six games out of first place, and five-and-a-half games out of second place, which is where the Celtics currently stand. A momentum shift seems to be in full swing for Cleveland. That means if Toronto also keeps up its pace, Boston could easily find itself the three-seed going into the playoffs.
If there is one thing that can help the Celtics move past Cleveland in the playoffs, it will be having home-court advantage. But if the Celtics cannot maintain one of the top 2 overall records in the Eastern Conference, then that advantage will sway in favor of a Cavaliers, team that does not need it, simply because they have the best player in the world in James.
Consider this just me raising a cause for concern for those who may think Sunday was just a bad game for the Celtics. If you would like to see some ideas for adjustments to be made by the Celtics squad down the stretch, check out my colleague Hunter Perkins’ article here.
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