CLEVELAND: It had been 527 days since Andrew Bynum last appeared in an NBA game. When he got off the bench late in the first quarter and pulled off his warm-ups, expectations for the Cavs this season changed instantly.
Anderson Varejao’s jumper from the free-throw line with 28 seconds left lifted the Cavaliers to a 98-94 season-opening victory against the Brooklyn Nets on a night Bynum’s productive eight minutes captured the night.
Kyrie Irving had 15 points, nine assists and seven rebounds despite shooting 4 of 16, Tristan Thompson had 18 points and nine rebounds and Jarrett Jack had 12 points off the bench.
Bynum finished with three points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks and changed the dynamic of the game. The Cavs trailed 21-15 when he entered the game with 3:40 left in the first quarter. They led 32-24 when he departed with 8:06 left in the second quarter.
He didn’t play the rest of the night, which was expected. He wasn’t cleared to play until hours before tip-off.
“I'm just excited about him getting a taste of game action,” Brown said before the game. “Where he goes from here, the sky is the limit. He has a lot of upside and a lot of room to grow. I’m not placing any expectations on him when he does play.”
Bynum last played in an NBA game on May 21, 2012 for the Los Angeles Lakers. He missed all of last season as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers because of injuries to both knees and had arthroscopic surgery on both knees in March.
The Cavs signed him as a free agent over the summer not knowing exactly what they would get out of him. Their first impression was awfully impressive.
He swatted a Deron Williams pass into the seats and was credited with another block when Reggie Evans lost possession trying to get a shot up around him. He shoved Evans to nearly the 3-point line on a box out and scored on a tip-in under the basket.
It was his only basket and his shot looked a little rusty (he was 1 for 5, including an air ball). But during one possession in the second quarter, Bynum tried passing out of the post. When nothing was open, he put the ball on the court and bulled through Nets All-Star Brook Lopez to get up a nifty hook shot from about 13 feet with his left hand. The shot didn’t fall, but it showed his offensive moves didn’t erode with the year away.
The Cavs were cautious throughout his rehab and were careful not to put any timeline on his return, while privately eyeing the start of the season as a best-case scenario.
Bynum has been playing 5-on-5 in practice for the last couple of weeks and working out extensively with player development coach Vitaly Potapenko for more than a month with no problems.
Just because Bynum is cleared doesn’t mean the knee problems are behind him. He hasn’t played an entire season since 2006-07, his second year in the league. That’s also the only time he has played more than 65 games.
“I don't know how often situations like that come around where you've got a 25-year-old veteran who's been in the league eight or nine years and less than two years ago was an All-Star," Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said. "Clearly he has knee challenges, but the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic were of the belief that he had a pretty good chance of coming through it and being able to play a decent amount of minutes. For us and the cap space we had, it was a pretty easy decision.”