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Less than a week ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers awoke and with the exception of Kevin Love, all 206 bones in each of their respective bodies were intact.
But they were broken, fractured as a team, one that looked downright funereal, both on the floor and in the locker room.
No one recognized it more than Koby Altman, the 35-year-old, first-year general manager of the Cavaliers, who went to work and on trade-deadline day, orchestrated three deals that swapped out six guys, with George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. coming back in return.
The out with the old — the six days shipped out averaged 31 years of age — and the in with the new — The New 4 have an average age of 27 — has produced a startling transformation.
The latest evidence being a 120-112 Cavalier win at Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. That piggybacked a 121-99 taking apart of Boston on the road Sunday.
Aside from Love’s broken left hand, which will sideline him until late March, consider the Cavaliers’ breaks and fractures to be healed. The impressive win at OKC came against the same Thunder team — sans stellar defender Andre Roberson, sidelined with a torn left patellar tendon — that humiliated Cleveland on its home floor in front of a national-television audience, 148-124, on Jan. 20. The infamous team meeting followed two days later.
📊 37 PTS, 8 REB, 8 AST pic.twitter.com/rNmFzIEqhb
— NBA TV (@NBATV) February 14, 2018
“Then it’s on me to make sure the new guys that come in, I make sure they fit in and make it as seamless as possible.”
Safe to say, through two games, anyway, “seamless” may even be a bit of an understatement.
Against the Thunder, The New 4 all played big parts, or as Hill said after their first practice with their new teammates Saturday in Atlanta — played Robins — to their Batman (James).
Clarkson (14 points, 3 rebounds, 4 dimes), Hood (14 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals), Nance Jr. (13 points, team-high 9 boards — 8 of which came on the offensive end — 2 assists, 1 steal, team-high 3 blocks) and Hill (7 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists, 1 steal).
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) February 14, 2018
“Everybody is playing for each other,” Clarkson said. “It doesn’t matter who scores the ball. We’re getting in the paint, making plays for each other. It’s fun basketball. This is how you’re supposed to play.”
J.R. Smith continued his improved play — on both ends of the floor. He scored 18 points, all on six 3-pointers (in 9 attempts), but also added six boards, three assists and a steal in 31 minutes.
His best play, though, was a terrific, leaping save of the basketball as it was headed out of bounds along the Cleveland baseline. In one motion, Smith jumped, grabbed the ball with his right hand and heaved it the length of the floor to an ahead-of-the-back Nance, who hammered home a right-handed dunk with 11 seconds to go to apply the dagger in stride, giving Cleveland a 119-112 advantage.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) February 14, 2018
“It was a great pass,” Nance said. “I don’t know if he saw me or what… just trying to waste time. He hit me in stride and it was easy from that point.”
Jeff Green added 10 points, four boards and one assists in 27 minutes for Cleveland, combining with Hood, Nance Jr. and Clarkson to help the Cleveland bench to outscore is OKC counterparts, 51-20. It marked the third consecutive game the Cavaliers’ bench has scored 50 or more points and the 12th time this season.
4 bench players scored at least 10 points for the @cavs tonight.
— Cavs Official Notes (@CavsNotes) February 14, 2018
Which helped offset big nights by four guys for OKC (32-26), all of whom scored 20 or more points. Paul George (25), Carmelo Anthony (24), Steve Adams (22, along with 17 rebounds, 12 of which were offensive) and Russell Westbrook (21, with 12 assists). Jerami Grant, one of only two Thunder players to score off the bench, accounted for 14 of OKC’s 20 points from its reserves.
“Those four guys were damn good,” James said. “We just tried to contain the rest of them.”
James, who is back to being the player he was while earning Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors in November and December, sees and feels the difference in the way the Cavaliers (34-22), winners of four consecutive games headed into the All-Star break are going about their business.
“We’re just flying around, continuing to help each other,” James told Dennis Scott of TNT after the game. “Even when it doesn’t look like it’s going as great for us, we’re still figuring it out on the fly, and that helps out a lot.”