For anyone who wondered what basketball would be like in Cleveland PLBJ (Post LeBron James), tonight provided an overwhelming response.
The game was tied at 82 with about six minutes left when both teams were coming out of a timeout. The near-sellout crowd inside the Q was standing and roaring as if James had just tossed powder into the air or soared from the free-throw line to the basket.
He may be gone, but the fans aren't. Dan Gilbert spoke before the game about receiving thousands of hand-written letters from fans after James' departure. The sting it created, the deepening yearning for a championship, for something -- ANYTHING -- to go right in this sports town.
The Cavs won't win a championship this season, but based on their debut, they're going to be fun to watch. Hustling on defense, movement on offense ... it's the way Byron Scott demands to play and his players are listening.
With three minutes to go and the game tied, Anderson Varejao chased down a loose ball rebound and led the fast break before passing to J.J. Hickson, who took it the rest of the way for the basket. Those were the two biggest players on the floor for the Cavs and they were running like a pair of guards.
It won't always be like that. The Celtics are old and tired after an emotionally draining opener against the Miami Heat. Their legs were shot in the fourth, proven by the fizzling offense down the stretch and the inability for Paul Pierce or Ray Allen to hit a shot.
But on their first night without LeBron James, the Cavs beat the defending Eastern Conference champions. The same team that smashed them in the playoffs last season.
"You have to understand, this team is hungry," Pierce said. "Everybody is against them and everybody is writing them off."
One victory isn't going to change that, but nine of the Cavs' next 10 games are against teams that failed to make the playoffs last season. If the Cavs are going to make a statement, now is the time.
*** Ramon Sessions is already a superior defender to Mo Williams. He struggled defending Rajon Rondo in the first quarter, but quickly settled in. He had a fantastic steal along the baseline off a fantastic Rondo wraparound pass. Sessions seemed to have his back turned and be out of position, then stuck his hand out at the perfect time and snared the ball. It led to Anthony Parker's big 3-pointer at the other end, when Parker beat the shot clock for an 89-84 lead.
*** By the way, Parker didn't beat the shot clock. OK, he did. But he shouldn't have. Doc Rivers was right. That might have been the longest second in the history of the NBA. Give an unofficial assist to the clock operator.
*** Byron Scott stuck with Daniel Gibson despite his horrific start (scoreless first half, 0 for 8 start from the floor). Gibson responded with 16 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter. "He's been great all preseason and all training camp," Scott said. "I knew he wasn't going to lose confidence in himself."
*** The Cavs bench was huge with 34 points, including 20 straight from the 2:12 mark of the third quarter to the 7:42 mark of the fourth.