CLEVELAND: On opening night, all eyes might have been on Cavs guard Kyrie Irving and how things would work with his new backcourt mate, Dion Waiters.
But the most dynamic duo in the house – at least if standing ovations were any indication – were Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson. Judging from the roar, the introduction of the rookies on the scoreboard during the second quarter might have been the highlight of the first half for 20,562 fans in Quicken Loans Arena.
It wasn’t until the third quarter in the Cavs’ 94-84 victory over the Washington Wizards that those in attendance got a glimpse of whether Waiters can play a credible Robin to Irving’s Batman.
If the measurement for that is thrills and 3’s, the answer could be a resounding yes.
Irving, the first pick in the 2011 draft and the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, and Waiters, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft making his first start since high school after excelling as Syracuse’s sixth man, combined to score the Cavs’ first 17 points of the third quarter.
Four of those by Irving came after Waiters had headed to the bench. But the offensive explosion during their time together was the first slice of what could be a wonderful life.
Irving was still the top dog, pouring in 29 points and adding six rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. But Waiters finished as the Cavs’ second-leading scorer with 17 points in 28 minutes.
“They just started playing together, they still don’t know each other extremely well,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said of Waiters and Irving. “Obviously, it’s a good start.”
Waiters made it sound like he and Irving were already Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, the former Detroit Pistons who comprised one of the best backcourt duos of all time.
“Of course, we’ve had that chemistry forever,” Waiters said of Irving. “To get out there and finally play with him, it was a great feeling.”
Asked how good they can be, Waiters said: “I think it can be special. But at the end of the day, it’s not just about me and Kyrie. It’s a team sport and a team game and we’re going to [do] whatever it takes.”
Even Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was admittedly curious about the pairing.
“Our scouting staff, I don’t know if I’ve quite seen them as excited about a player as Dion,” Gilbert said before the game. “We watch it like fans, we watch college, the workouts. It’s going to be really interesting. They think his upside is just huge, tremendous.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen. Seeing how they jell is going to be very interesting.”
That’s why the first eight minutes of the third quarter seemed so enlightening.
Waiters opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, and Irving connected on a 15-foot turnaround jumper. When Waiter missed a driving layup, Anderson Varejao pulled down one of his career-high 23 rebounds and Irving connected on a 3.
Seconds later, Waiters came up with a steal and a massive slam that prompted a Wizards timeout.
Irving added a short jumper before Waiters went to the bench and another jumper and two free throws before another Cav scored, that when rookie center Tyler Zeller connected on a 21-footer.
It was a dazzling preview of what could be a perfect match.
What seems most surprising about the new marriage of Irving and Waiters is that Waiters excelled with the ball in his hands at Syracuse, and Irving said he will let him continue.
Playing off the ball seems like a huge concession for Irving, who seems bound for multiple All-Star Games. But Irving seems willing to put his ego aside, perhaps realizing he’ll get plenty of chances or that he can’t win championships alone.
“Having two guys out there being aggressive on the ball, he has the ability to create his own shot, that just opens more lanes for me,” Irving said before the game. “I don’t mind going off the ball. I’m looking forward to it.”
Every night might not go as well for the two as it did against the Wizards, who had starters Nene Hilario and John Wall out with injuries. But Irving thinks he and Waiters need time together and that even the bad nights will be valuable.
“Going through ups and downs with each other, that’s how we’ll get a feel for each other,” Irving said. “Practice can only do so much.”
Although he’s only 20, Irving also seems like a willing mentor for Waiters.
Asked if he had any advice before his first NBA start, Irving said: “He’ll remember it for the rest of his life. I still remember my stat line — six points and six assists. Just go out there and play. The first game of his journey and I’m looking forward to being part of it.”
It was only one out of 81 games this season, one day out of what could be years of their NBA lives together. But even Weeden and Richardson would agree it was a great start.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.