With the departure of LeBron James this summer, it was clear from that moment the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to need everyone to step up and contribute.
The championship expectations are no longer present for the Wine & Gold, and the spotlight that shined brightly on this franchise for the past four seasons is now pointed elsewhere.
But that does not mean the Cavaliers are going to roll over and become the doormat of the NBA. This team possesses too much talent and their is still winning DNA embedded in several players still on the roster.
Another thing to follow this season for the Cavaliers is the ball movement and the overall flow of the offense.
With LeBron James out in Los Angeles, one thing about the Cavaliers offense is obvious. The ball is not going to stick in one players’ hands too long or too often. Cleveland is going to have to work more for their shots, but with a good amount of ball movement and players stepping up, the offense will have a level of unpredictability.
Though the Cavaliers do have veterans on the roster, the future of this team rests largely with their young players.
Cedi Osman, Collin Sexton, Larry Nance Jr and Rodney Hood are going to be core pieces of this team for this season and beyond. While Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, George Hill and Tristan Thompson bring a veteran presence to the locker room.
Osman showed flashes of that talent we have all heard about for some time. He was flying around the court in Toronto, and looks like he can be a reliable scoring threat night in and night out.
For the game Osman tallied a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and provided the team with energy whenever they needed a boost.
Sexton definitely looked like a rookie in the opener (9 points, 3 rebounds), but had a few solid drives to the base and showed he was not afraid to take it to the basket against taller defenders. The more time Sexton gets out on the floor, the more confidence he will surely gain.
But one thing is for sure, Sexton is not going to back down from anyone. His “Young Bull” nickname is no bull. He is going to hound defenders and make his opposition work for every basket.
The Cavaliers were one of the better teams at grabbing offensive rebounds the past four seasons, and that trend continued last night in Toronto. Thompson and Love both crashed the offensive glass hard on several possessions, and often took on multiple defenders down under the rim. For the game the team grabbed 14 offensive boards.
While the Cavaliers managed to hang around for much of the first half, Toronto began to assert themselves almost from the start of the second half. Cleveland was fighting for every hoop it seemed like, while the Raptors caught the Wine & Gold out of position several times and Toronto made them pay.
Toronto was not a great three-point shooting team last season, but they were hitting from all areas of the floor last night. Kyle Lowry was 5-6 from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 27 points, while newly-acquired superstar Kawhi Leonard hurt the Cavaliers from all over the floor and was 9-22 for 24 points. “The Claw” also grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds for the home team.
Cleveland’s defense was a work in progress for much of the night. When they were one step slow or did not communicate properly, Toronto often made them pay. The Raptors cashed in 14 three-point shots and finished the game shooting 49 percent from the floor. With several new bodies on the roster, it is going to take time for things to gel into place on both ends of the floor. Once the defense gets going, the offense will likely fall into place as well.
A guy who is familiar with the way Cleveland plays basketball is Love. He is the centerpiece of this team. Their opening possession ran through him and overall Love will be the focal point of a re-designed offense.
That is a role Love is ready for, as he echoed shortly after committing to the Cavaliers long-term this past summer. While expecting him to go back to full-fledged Minnesota mode may be a bit much to ask for, he surely will have to change his approach on the offensive end.
He finished the game with a team-best 21 points, while Jordan Clarkson also sparked the comeback with 15 points off the bench.
Cleveland showed fight after going down by 20 points in the 3rd quarter, which is a great sign from a younger team. Often times when teams get kicked in the mouth, they pack it in and show no fight. Clarkson went on a personal 6-0 run in the early stages of the final quarter to cut the Raptors lead to nine points.
But despite the Cavaliers best efforts, they could not get the deficit down below seven points. Nonetheless the effort was there from Cleveland, which had to make head coach Tyronn Lue feel good about his team despite the loss.
This Cavaliers team stayed the course and went down swinging in defeat. They took the best punch from a top-tier Eastern Conference team and kept on fighting. Wins may be tougher to secure this season for the Wine & Gold, but one thing is for certain, they will not be going down without a fight.