CLEVELAND: Tristan Thompson had 17 points and eight rebounds and Kyrie Irving had 14 points and a renewed commitment to defense to make Mike Brown a 99-87 winner over the Milwaukee Bucks in his return Tuesday to Quicken Loans Arena.
Brown has made improving the defense his mission since taking over in the summer. The results on the first night were encouraging, albeit against a Bucks team expected to struggle. The Cavs held the Bucks to shooting 38 percent and forced 24 turnovers. They created turnovers with their pick-and-roll defense and did a better job of defending the rim (although the Bucks still had a number of open looks). And whenever Brown saw something he didn’t like, he quickly burned through his timeouts.
He called timeouts 20 seconds apart in the second quarter when the Cavs first allowed a dunk off an offensive rebound, then surrendered another dunk when they failed to get back on a Bucks fast break. In fact, Brown called at least five timeouts throughout the game immediately following defensive breakdowns.
“They’ve got to understand if I use all my timeouts in the first half and we go to a mandatory (timeout) and I don’t have any and it’s a technical foul, so be it,” Brown said. “They’ve got to understand how important each possession is. We talk about the commitment to the process. This process is not weekly or monthly, it’s a play by play by play process.”
Irving, sharply criticized the last two years for his lack of effort defensively, seems to be embracing it. He was so active defensively on one possession in the second quarter that he contested shots from three different spots on the floor. Brown said he was out of position on the play, but loved the effort so much that he showed the clip to the rest of the team at halftime.
“I can’t get on a guy if he’s going to give that type of effort,” Brown said. “If he gives that type of effort, everyone else needs to fall in line. If he doesn’t, now it’s harder for me to preach my message to everybody else. … That was a heck of a play. He was just running all over the place trying to help his teammates out.”
Irving boldly declared last week he wants to be the best player in the league, and has often acknowledged he can’t get there without help from his teammates and vast improvement defensively. It was only one preseason game, but he’s off to a good start.
“I’ve preached before I have to lead on both ends of the floor and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “Not just by voice, but by example.”
Top overall pick Anthony Bennett had seven points and 10 rebounds, but shot 2 of 12 and struggled defensively. Brown said if he called five timeouts following defensive breakdowns, four of them involved Bennett.
Dion Waiters had 12 points and Kenny Kadji had 15 points and five rebounds – all in the second half. Kadji is in competition for the final spot on the roster.
Brown has worked the players hard the last couple of days, keeping them for five hours of practice on Monday and followed it up with a three-hour shootaround Tuesday morning.
“I love every minute of it. Every six hours of it,” Irving joked. “In order to be great in this league, everyone has to buy in. Obviously we have to buy into his principles and I think we’re doing that.”
Alonzo Gee (hamstring), Tyler Zeller (hip) and Andrew Bynum (knees) did not play, but everyone else did. Brown wanted to make sure everyone played at least a couple of minutes in the opener, but wouldn’t commit to playing everyone beyond that.
He has been inside the Q since the Cavs fired him during the summer of 2010, but Tuesday marked his first time back as an NBA coach. Brown never appeared during his brief stint with the Lakers because they didn’t travel here during the lockout-shortened season, then he was fired last season before the Lakers’ trip to Cleveland.
“It does still feel surreal to me, every time I experience something new,” Brown said prior to the game. “Obviously, this is going to be a new feeling going out there and coaching the team again. But it's definitely an enjoyable one.”