What a fantastic way to start the season! Thanks to the generous folks at NBA.com and their free League Pass preview offer at the moment, I was able to watch every minute of yesterday's classic between the Cavs and Celtics. I'm so glad I did.
The new-look Cavaliers team hustled to a 95-87 victory last night in front of a sellout crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena. I doubt many pundits, so-called "experts", and the majority of fans expected the young Cavs team to beat the veteran Celtics, but they went ahead and did just that. It was certainly a close game, and the Cavs could have given up in the 3rd quarter when they trailed Boston by 11 points. However, Byron Scott's dynamic Cavs side battled back against the odds to stun the Celtics and take home the win.
JJ Hickson, I player I really liked last season, became the go-to guy for the Cavs as he took over the game in the first quarter, racking up 10 points very quickly. He was moving well, setting good screens, and making shot after shot. His mid-range jumper is impressive, and he continued to be a pest to the Celtics all night as he eventually finished with 21 points on 8 of 11 shooting, with 6 rebounds. I'm really hoping Hickson can continue this form over the course of the season as his athleticism is truly something to marvel at, as he glides through the paint with ease. Hickson is my boy this year, I'll be rooting for him.
Hickson was not the only Cavalier who helped lead the team past the Celtics. Daniel Gibson had a mixed evening but came through for us when it mattered, as he had an impressive second half to the game. He finished with 16 points, including some clutch free-throws with the game winding down, to seal the win. Gibson missed his first eight shots, as nothing seemed to be going his way, but he finally nailed a big three pointer in the 3rd quarter and he took off from there. The bench as a whole were impressive last night, as they carried the team in the second half, and really became the catalyst for victory. Ryan Hollins was particularly impressive, as he played good defense, came through on offense when he was called, and worked hard for the team all night. Anthony Parker's clutch 3 pointer with 1 second left on the shot clock late in the 4th quarter was the final nail in the coffin, to cap off a memorable Cavaliers win at the Q.
Obviously the team is far from perfect, and there is still a lot of work to do, they are not the finished article. Not every game will be like last night (unfortunately). The offense had some bad stretches, they looked lost at times as the Celtics really put the pressure on. Ramon Sessions was inconsistent for the majority of the game; he seemed to rush the break and force the offense a bit. Most of the time, Sessions should have passed the ball when he opted instead to shoot, a mistake more often than not. As a point guard, I didn't expect him to be as aggressive as he was, and Sessions consistently got called for offensive fouls. I think he needs to tone it down a bit in the future, as Gibson ended up getting more minutes than him in the second half. However, he did have a terrific 2nd quarter where he really got into his flow and finished the night with 14 points. The team are obviously still a work in progress and it will take time to get everything right. Patience will be key this season.
Overall it was a successful opening night, and a game I will remember for a long time. I really enjoyed the hustle and hard work the team put in, and the fans responded to it with multiple standing ovations and incredible noise. The team rewarded them (and me) with a fantastic upset win against what most people consider the best team in the East. Kevin Garnett, on the Cavs, commented: "I think they value that their strength is playing together." And I totally agree with Boston's big man, it is an absolute joy to watch the Cavs play as a real team now. It will ultimately be what determines their success or failure this year. Mary Schmitt Boyer at The Plain Dealer summed it up nicely: "By beating the arch-rival Eastern Conference defending champion Celtics in their first regular-season game since the departure of Lebron James, the Cavs served notice that they're still here and they can -- and will -- win with James." Not every body in the media was so positive about the Cavs' upset win, as Steve Aschburner at NBA.com couldn't help but put the fire out. "The Cavaliers, with so many of the supporting cast still in place, have the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and the sesame-seed bun. But oh, are those two all-beef patties ever conspicuously missing." The majority of the national media are not going to stop reminding us that Cleveland are a lot worse off without Lebron, but they should at least give credit where it is due and praise the team's success, which Aschburner begrudgingly does in his article. We all know Lebron has taken his skills to Miami, I think we've heard enough about him already this year, because I know I have. It's time to focus on the guys who he left behind, the players who will carry the Cavaliers flag night after night; the guys who went out and beat the favoured Boston Celtics. I think the Cavs will continue to surprise a lot of people throughout this campaign, just like they did last night.
Thanks for reading.