It was just the opening game for Cleveland and Boston, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dish out disjointed thoughts or make hasty predictions for their seasons going forward. Here are five of our best (worst?) observations and overreactions from their game on opening night.
- Gordon Hayward’s injury is a brutal way to start the season
Opening night. National TV. A highly anticipated season amidst a trying (and terrifying) year outside of basketball. Seeing an All-Star caliber forward suffer a gruesome fracture six minutes into the game was the exact opposite of what we needed.
For Hayward, the injury could unfairly alter his career just as he was about to embark on his first season with a team that had title aspirations. It was easy to see Hayward moving out East and adding to his All-Star appearances while cementing Boston as a force to be reckoned with in the Conference. Now that’s all up in the air. Just like with Paul George, you can only hope that Hayward’s best basketball playing years are still ahead of him and he powers through what will be a grueling road to recovery. Get well soon, Gordon.
As for the Celtics, it’s probably the end of talk on a Finals run this season. It’s always an uphill climb to beat LeBron James, doing so without Hayward is damn near impossible. That means in an Eastern Conference lacking top tier teams, the hope of an exciting regular season race culminating in an epic playoff matchup between Boston and Cleveland is severely diminished. Just a bummer all the way around.
But onto more straight basketball stuff….
- None of Boston’s young wings will shoot over 32.0 percent from behind the 3-point line.
This is another area where the team will miss Hayward. Marcus Smart (just 23!), Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Semi Ojeleye all have the potential to impact games in positive ways. That said, it’s hard to see outside shooting being one of them.
During Tuesday's game, those three combined to 3-of-16 from beyond the arc. Needless to say, this type of regular output will pose problems for a team in today’s NBA. And if Kyrie Irving is going to develop his playmaking and take his jitterbug act to new heights, he’s going to need teammates around him to make shots. Hopefully for Boston, this prediction turns out to be way off base.
- The Dwyane Wade-Derrick Rose-JR Smith tug-of-war in Cleveland’s rotation will be something that gets talked about all season long.
As I touched on in my preview piece, the Cavs perimeter shooting is also going to be a question mark this season. In the opener, we got a chance to see how Cleveland is attempting to counteract these shortcomings with their offensive approach.
The Cavs are going to look to get out in transition in general, but Rose seems to be allowed to turn back the clock to his Chicago days of being a one-man fastbreak. In the halfcourt, the team is just throwing back to the trail man on the break, then going into a series of off-ball screens, cuts and “flow” pick-and-rolls. This will offset some of the shooting woes that have plagued Rose and Wade throughout their careers.
That said, Wade dribbling into post ups and turning cuts into ISO’s might undercut this Cavs' offense. So too will the fact that Rose’s defenders will happily sag off him, not fearing his cutting like they do Wade’s. At times, having both players out there with James will get messy (and we haven’t even talked about the defense). Last night, those three were -5 in the 17 minutes they played together while Smith (+7) matched Jae Crowder with highest raw plus/minus.
Expect this awkward rotation issue to be a topic that gets written about and discussed fairly frequently this year.
- Marcus Smart needs to stop shooting
This sounds harsh and extreme, but there’s a broader point behind it. Despite his shooting woes, Smart is still a valuable player. He rebounds, defends multiple spots and might have the most dog him of any player in the league. To be clear, Smart is a guy you’d want to play with.
Unfortunately for him, Smart seems to be conflating value with scoring and spent the season opener looking hellbent on proving he’s worth a juicy extension because he can get buckets. Ironically, the last thing Smart needs to do on this team is score in order to prove his worth. Because if there’s anything this Boston team desperately needs, it’s a pass-first ballhandler.
Now Smart doesn’t have the feel for making plays like Chris Paul or Steve Nash, but he doesn’t have to. With the way this Celtics' offense hums from action to action, Smart can be a catalyst simply by dragging defenders out of position and making simple passes to open teammates. It’s something that rarely shows up in a box score, but make no mistake it is hugely valuable to winning basketball games, especially for a Boston team that is chalk full of cats looking to get buckets.
If someone around Smart can get through to him that he can still make money and be an impact player without scoring, it could be a nice boost for a Celtics team that badly needs one right now.
- This might be the end for Kyle Korver
After failing to get a shot off in seven minutes of action and looking overwhelmed defensively against the athletic youngsters from Boston, it seems as if Korver’s run as rotation member on a good NBA team might be over. Even if Korver gets relegated to the bench/spot duty during the Cavs run this season, it won’t take away from what he accomplished to this point. Over 2,000 made 3’s, an All-Star appearance and 16 NBA seasons is a hell of a run for a player picked 51st in a draft.