When Jarrett Jack entered 4½ minutes into Wednesday’s game, the Cavaliers were already trailing 12-6 and Kyrie Irving was exiting with two fouls. Yet under the steady hand of Jack and the massive stature of Andrew Bynum, the second unit slowed the Brooklyn Nets’ momentum and kept the Cavs in the game.
That’s the type of role Jack is expected to hold this season — the steady hand and calming influence over a young team that can get scattered, as was evident in the game’s final moments.
In fact, all of the Cavs’ free-agent acquisitions played a significant role on opening night. Bynum had three points, three rebounds, two blocks, two assists and really impacted the game in only eight minutes; Earl Clark had nine points and eight rebounds, including a huge offensive rebound on the game-winning possession and Jack had 12 points and three assists in 22½ minutes off the bench.
Coach Mike Brown said no decision has been made regarding Bynum moving forward. The Cavs play back-to-back games this weekend at the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday and at the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
Whether Bynum plays in one game or both likely won’t be announced before Friday morning’s shootaround, but Jack’s status is clear.
“He’s a veteran who has been through a lot of big games,” Brown said. “There’s not much he hasn’t seen. He doesn’t get easily rattled. He’s great to come off the bench because he can change the flow just with his presence alone.”
During one stretch late in the third quarter, Irving grabbed a defensive rebound and rookie Anthony Bennett quickly launched a 3-pointer at the other end. Anderson Varejao grabbed the offensive rebound and got it back to Irving, but he quickly rushed another shot in the lane.
After another offensive rebound, the ball was kicked out to Jack well above the 3-point line. Jack put his hand in the air and told everyone to settle down before actually getting into the half-court offense. The Cavs didn’t score (Irving missed another short shot en route to a tough 4-of-16 shooting night), but Jack’s ability to slow down the game was evident.
Earlier in the quarter, Irving and Tristan Thompson both dived on the court for a loose ball on defense. Irving came up with the steal and quickly called timeout and Jack was the first player off the Cavs’ bench. He walked all the way over to the other side of the court to congratulate both players for their hustle and grit.
Jack said he learned to keep his composure from playing with veterans like Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd. It took years for that composure to develop, and now he’s trying to teach it to Irving and Dion Waiters.
“It came with time,” Jack said. “Going though the ups and downs of this league and figuring out who you are. Once I was able to keep my temperature at an even keel … I think it translated to my play as well.”
The Cavs’ young backcourt is still trying to figure that out.
During the crucial possession late in the game, which ended with Varejao making a jumper from the free-throw line to win the game, the Cavs spent the bulk of the possession watching Irving dribble all around the court. He dribbled for 17 seconds before launching a 3-pointer, then after the big rebound from Clark, Irving dribbled around for another 19 seconds before flipping to Varejao before falling down.
“Everybody is making fun of me today, calling me a Harlem Globetrotter,” Irving said, referring to all of that dribbling. “At the end of the game, I was just trying to look for an opening. I kind of knew their bigs would commit themselves to me. I knew Andy was open at the elbow almost the whole entire game. We had that communication and luckily he made the shot.”
Waiters spent most of that sequence lingering about 8 feet behind the 3-point line. He never made a move to engage in the play and he never slid into Irving’s line of vision. Just another area where Jack can teach in the future.
“You don’t understand how he’s gone from team to team to team,” Brown said [Jack has played for six teams in nine years]. “Then when you do your homework on him, you keep hearing, ‘I wish we could’ve kept him.’ He was almost the odd man out in every scenario.
“You see a guy who is tough, who is about the team, who communicates, makes big plays and makes big shots. You see him and say, ‘I want him to be part of my team.’?”
Owner Dan Gilbert made reference to keeping Irving with the Cavs for the rest of his career prior to Wednesday’s opener. Irving told reporters Thursday it’s too early to start talking about extensions. He is eligible to sign one next summer.
“We’ve got a great relationship, me and Dan,” Irving said. “I finally got out of calling him Mr. Gilbert. We have a great relationship and it extends off the court. That’s about where it stands right now. We’re building a culture in Cleveland. He told me I’m one of the guys at the forefront of it. We’re building an identity here and I want to be part of it. We’re building a championship contending team and that’s what it’s all about.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.