CLEVELAND: All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving took the microphone before tip-off of the Cavaliers’ opener Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets and vowed, “It’s going to be a great journey this season.”
The Cavs spent the next 48 minutes hinting of the thrills the next six months could bring.
Excitement was further heightened when center Andrew Bynum made his Cavs debut with 3:40 remaining in the first quarter. Plagued by knee problems that forced him to miss all of last season, Bynum played for the first time since May 2012 with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In Bynum’s 7½ minutes, it looked as if the Cavs’ relatively cheap gamble on him will pay off.
But not all was perfect in the Cavs’ 98-94 victory at Quicken Loans Arena.
Small forward Earl Clark looked uncomfortable at his new position, at least at the start. Irving struggled to find his shooting touch, making just 4-of-16 shots. Rookie forward Anthony Bennett was not an instant sensation, going 0-for-5 from the field. The start of the fourth quarter brought a scoring lull that felt like a black hole. For most of the night, the Cavs had no answer for the Nets’ 7-foot center, Brook Lopez, who led his team with 21 points.
But at times, the young Cavs dazzled, which bodes well for this season and the future.
“It was a gritty, grimy, ugly game, just how I like it,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “I’m sure Brooklyn didn’t feel like they played their best, we didn’t play our best. Offensively, at times, it looked like we were going to be juggernauts, then there were times it looked like we’d be lucky to get to 82.”
Free-agent guard Jarrett Jack showed he could be a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, scoring 10 points in the first quarter after Irving went to the bench with his second foul at the 7:31 mark. Jack had all 12 of his points in the first half as the Cavs rallied from a 10-2 deficit.
Power forward Tristan Thompson’s shooting touch looked effortless and smooth, stunning because of his unusual offseason switch from his left hand to his right. In the third quarter, he drilled a jumper from the free-throw line, then followed with a mid-range leaner after a snakelike move. Leading the Cavs with 18 points and nine rebounds, Thompson looked like the Cavs’ most improved player.
Shooting guard Dion Waiters might not be the offensive liability he was in his rookie season, even though he still hasn’t realized driving to the basket is his best option. Waiters did put up the ugliest, off-balance, 3-point attempt of the evening and shot 5-of-12, but there was improvement.
C.J. Miles backed Jack with solid scoring off the bench as the Cavs’ forgotten man added 10 points.
Irving, scoreless until 28.4 seconds remained in the second quarter, took awhile to find his groove. But there were special plays from the Cavs’ star as he finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
His best might have been an assist to Thompson on an alley-oop dunk with 2:20 left in the second quarter. His most important were passes, one to Varejao for a layup and a five-point lead with 1:43 remaining, another to Varejao for a jumper at the top of the key with 28.1 seconds to play. Chants of “MVP” broke out as Irving made all four of his free-throw attempts in the final 13.7 seconds.
Team-wise, there were also some moments to savor. Three consecutive offensive rebounds on a third-quarter possession drew a standing ovation. The Cavs came up with several key defensive stops in the final four minutes against the All-Star laden Nets. Varejao didn’t hesitate to take the shot with the game on the line.
With six players in double figures, the Cavs’ balanced scoring was a startling surprise since Brown spent the preseason concentrating on defense. Some thought the Cavs’ offense might take weeks to evolve.
The Cavs’ attack might have had a little street ball feel, but Brown showed he’s grown as a coach from his first stint in Cleveland, when he needed an offensive coordinator.
Irving also showed he’s grown as a leader, at least until he bolted without speaking in the postgame locker room. Addressing the crowd before the game, Irving could have been offering an olive branch after leaving the court quickly on Fan Appreciation Night in April. The Cavs need maturity from Irving, the cornerstone of the Cavs’ future, in his third year.
Besides being opening night, there may have been more of a buzz because minority owner Usher was the in house. Whatever the reason, Brown appreciated being back after being fired following the 2010 season.
“The fans here are so flipping electric,” Brown said. “They bring the spirit and the energy. It was a neat atmosphere. I really enjoyed it.”
The night had a magical feel with glow sticks distributed at each seat sparkling in the darkness of pre-game introductions. The flashes of special talents the Cavs displayed provided more promise of brilliance.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.