Yes, it was only one game and we’re all prone to overreactions, but nobody who watched LeBron James and his new sidekicks decimate the Celtics on Paul Pierce Day and come away thinking anything other than that the Cavs are Back.
LeBron James had looked listless for a couple months now. He openly wasn’t trying on defense. He was sending his customary vague shots at teammates on social media. He and his wife were literally checking out schools in LA.
Nevermind all that for the time being. A flip switched Wednesday night when he hit the Wolves with a block and buzzer beater to seal an overtime win, continued Friday when he led a shorthanded team over the Hawks, and culminated in a statement victory over Kyrie Irving and the Celtics today.
Dating back really his whole career but especially to the 2011-2012 season, the year after his new Heat superteam was bested by the Mavs in the Finals, you can peg the peaks in his performance to the times where he has the stone cold killer look in his eyes. It’s hard to describe in words but you know it when you see it. It was there for prolonged stretches in all three of his championship campaigns and it was back again today like a long lost friend that never faded away.
LeBron’s new teammates — George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood — already look like they complement him better than the half of the roster that was shipped away at the trade deadline Thursday. They collectively are better on defense, and combined to shoot 8-15 from 3. It also always helps when you get Good J.R. Smith, whose shots were dropping today.
While the Raptors are pretty damn good and still flying under the radar and you can’t totally count the Celtics out on the basis of one very overmatched afternoon, LeBron and the Cavs are clearly back in the driver’s seat in the East and beyond that a more formidable battle would loom against the (likely) Warriors or Rockets than before the team’s deck was shuffled.