5 takeaways as new-look Cavaliers crush Celtics
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports / Action Images

It's just one game, but they look pretty damn good.

The rejuvenated Cleveland Cavaliers, refreshed with four reinforcements after the trade deadline, stormed TD Garden to ruin Paul Pierce's jersey retirement with a dominant 121-99 victory over the Boston Celtics.

The game was tight early, but Cleveland pulled away in the second quarter behind an impressive display from its new additions. Before the third quarter was over, agitated Celtics fans started booing their own team - all while a discontented Pierce looked on from the sidelines as he awaited his postgame ceremony.

Here's how Cleveland's newest players looked in their debuts.

George Hill changed the game, subtly

It was immediately clear that Hill suits Cleveland's needs much better than his predecessor, Isaiah Thomas. Hill was happy to play off the ball, and was dynamic on defense while guarding multiple positions.

Hill's primary assignment was Kyrie Irving, but the long-limbed stopper also took shifts guarding Celtics forwards Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris. Hill kept Irving (18 points, 1-of-7 from deep) in check, and completely shut down Morris and Tatum on switches.

On offense, Hill struck the delicate balance between assertiveness and patience that is necessary while playing beside LeBron James. Hill was aggressive working out of the corners, as he either looked for the three or drove into the paint. Otherwise, he was content to play a careful two-man game with James as the screener, to devastating effect.

Jordan Clarkson stole the show

Clarkson has a reputation as a feast-or-famine player. In his incredible debut, he was definitely eating.

He supplied instant offense off the bench, as he insisted on looking for his points. He made his presence felt on defense - on two occasions, Clarkson stole a pass playing as the free safety on the weak side and took it the other way for a transition layup.

Clarkson was even on fire from deep, hitting 3-of-4 from three, which brought a long-absent smile to James' face. He showed more love for Clarkson on one play than he did for Thomas over his entire, if brief, tenure as a teammate.

Rodney Hood fits like a glove

Life should be easy for a catch-and-shoot specialist in Cleveland's offense.

Hood spent most of the night finishing off drive-and-kick opportunities generated by the irresistible gravity of James' powerful forays to the basket. He drilled three triples and also showed some juice attacking closeouts for drives to the rim or stopping short for pull-up elbow jumpers.

His role will be very similar to that of starter J.R. Smith, who continued his strong play of late with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. These two could trade places depending on who's hot, but for the moment, things look pretty even - Hood had 15 points of his own off the bench.

Larry Nance Jr. did his job

Nance had the least impact out of the four newcomers.

He was solid on defense, save for when he slipped on a wet spot and allowed Al Horford to get to the rim. Nance is an intuitive player who gets in the right position to contest shots. He can also move his feet on the perimeter, and that came in handy as Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue switched to a frenetic hedge-and-recover defense that stifled the Celtics.

Nance didn't get many touches on offense, but that isn't really his role. His job is to work dribble hand-offs, roll to the rim, create second chances, and finish strong at the basket. He did just that in the fourth quarter on a play that must have invoked memories of his father wearing a Cavaliers jersey some 30 years ago.

LeBron James gets back to work

The most important difference was that James stopped sulking, and got back to being the best player on the planet.

Lue simplified his offense, likely in an effort to accomodate the new faces. He slowed the pace, surrounded James with shooters to space the floor, and essentially gave a preview of the postseason.

James controls every play, and makes the defense pick its poison: letting him get layups, or sending help and conceding an open three. That formula pressured the league's stingiest defense into conceding a season-high 121 points on its home floor.

He may get worn down if he's asked to create every play every night, but that's also a matter of management - and motivation. This game clearly mattered to James, and so he dominated. That's been the bottom line in the Eastern Conference over the past decade and it's not changing any time soon.

A motivated James trumps all, and there was plenty to play for in the Sunday afternoon ABC showcase. James struck two birds with one stone - he spoiled the night for his old nemesis, Pierce, and also sonned Irving for wanting out.

It was a glorious day for the King, and a welcome sight for Cavaliers fans.

5 takeaways as new-look Cavaliers crush Celtics
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!
Daily Newsletter
Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox