The Cleveland Cavaliers began the 2013-2014 season with a bang, defeating the Brooklyn Nets 98-94 at the Q tonight. In a tense battle that featured runs by both teams and an appearance by Andrew Bynum, defense and rebounding were the main reasons the Cavaliers pulled out the win.
1st Quarter: Despite a raucous crowd excited by both the new season and the announcement that new Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum would see some playing time, the Cavaliers started out flat. The starters were very tentative on both sides of the floor, and there was little ball movement on offense while they committed several boneheaded fouls on defense. . Meanwhile the Nets controlled the paint on defense as the Cavaliers didn’t seem to have an outside shooting threat. On offense they were very aggressive in racing out to a 12-2 lead and were in the bonus with 7:30 left in the quarter. Paul Pierce and Brook Lopez were particularly successful as Earl Clark and Anderson Varejao had difficulty containing them. Things began to change after Kyrie Irving picked up two quick fouls and Jarrett Jack came off the bench. Jack had a calming influence on the team and the Cavaliers’ bench began to chip away at the lead as the Nets’ bench struggled on both sides of the floor. With 3:40 left in the first quarter, Andrew Bynum entered the game to a huge standing ovation. Bynum immediately began to affect the game on the defensive end, which combined with Jack’s efficient offense (10 points on 2-3 shooting and 5-6 from the line), gave the Cavaliers a 27-26 lead at the end of the first.
2nd Quarter: The bench squad of Jack, Bynum, Alonzo Gee, C.J. Miles, and Anthony Bennett started off the quarter and picked up where they left off. They continued to pick up the defensive intensity and the Nets began to struggle to put the ball in the basket. Bynum was particularly effective against Brook Lopez, who had been having his way with the Cavaliers until Bynum checked in. Alonzo Gee was also highly active on defense and gave the Nets fits at times. After Bynum left the game (he played just under 8 minutes and finished with a line of 3 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 assists). When the starters returned halfway through the quarter, they temporarily lost the lead until Irving and Dion Waiters, scoreless until this point, were able to get going somewhat on offense. At the half the Cavaliers lead 49-48 after 11 lead changes.
3rd Quarter: The Cavaliers started the second half aggressively as Earl Clark hit a short jumper and Waiters nailed a three, but then the Nets came charging back. A 9-0 run by the Nets gave them a 57-56 lead and force Mike Brown to call a timeout. Coming out of the huddle, Clark hit a prayer from midrange as the shot clock was winding down and then hit another jumper to add to the lead. The Cavaliers continued to up their defensive intensity and began to push the ball in transition more often. If not for Lopez, the Cavaliers might have run away with the game this quarter, and as it stood lead 79-70 entering the fourth quarter.
4th Quarter: The Cavaliers used a lineup of Jack, Gee, Bennett, and Tyler Zeller to start the fourth. Unlike the first half, this group struggled on both sides of the ball, while the Nets bench played exceptional defense and started the half on a 6-0 run. Zeller, who had entered the game at the end of the third struggled with turnovers and even had a lane violation while Reggie Evans was at the line, giving Evans a third free throw attempt which he converted. Zeller was soon removed and Thompson played center for a bit alongside Bennett. By this time the Nets had all the momentum though and Jason Terry hit two quick three-pointers to time the game at 82. The teams then traded baskets until a free throw from Clark, jumper from Waiters, and layup from Varejao gave the Cavaliers a 91-86 lead. The Nets wouldn’t go away though and a basket by Lopez and a three from Paul Pierce tied the game at 91. At this point Varejao hit a jumper with 28 seconds left and Irving was sent to the line twice and converted all four of his free throws for a 97-91 lead. A three by Pierce to close the score again was followed by Varejao hitting one of two from the line for a 98-94 lead, which the Cavaliers held onto for the win.
Thoughts: Although Irving and Waiters didn’t score until late in the second quarter, both guards looked get teammates involved and played solid defense. Waiters in particular did a tremendous job guarding Joe Johnson, holding him to 13 points on 3 of 10 shooting.
Tristan Thompson had a great game with 18 points and 9 rebounds on 8 of 13 shooting. Thompson outplayed Kevin Garnett and showed a solid midrange game.
Lopez may not be a household name, but he could be the Nets best player. The big man finished with 21 points on 9 of 18 shooting, although a point blank miss in the fourth quarter may keep him up tonight.
Earl Clark, C.J. Miles, and Alonzo Gee all had several positives and a few negatives to their games. Clark scored 9 points on 4 of 10 shooting and seemed to become more comfortable as the game went on. He also played aggressive defense and finished with eight rebound. Unfortunately Clark continues to try to dribble too often and was a bit of a ball stopper at times. Miles was very efficient on offense, shooting 4 of 6 and 2 of 4 from deep, but he also allowed Jason Terry to score at will. Gee showed tremendous activity on defense, hit a corner three and went 4-4 at the line, but his total lack of ability to put the ball on the floor is still a concern as teams bring the Cavaliers offense to a halt by aggressively guarding Gee when he has the ball.
Zeller looked rusty, but that is to be expected after missing all of the preseason due to his appendectomy. Bynum meanwhile showed that he still has the potential to be a game-changing center.
While the offense was not pretty in shooting just over 41%, the Cavaliers held the Nets to 40% shooting, and one a grinding game with their defense. After watching the Cavaliers look completely lost on defense for three years that was nice to see. It’s better to win ugly than lose a shoot-out.
The Cavaliers are back in action Friday in Charlotte against the Bobcats.