Young Cavaliers surprise star-studded Nets in opener
CLEVELAND - The Brooklyn Nets are battle-tested and one of the league’s most experienced teams.
However, it was the youthful Cleveland Cavaliers who executed to perfection down the stretch in their 98-94 victory over the Nets on Wednesday in the season opener for both teams.
“Many times throughout the fourth quarter we could have folded,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “That didn’t happen at all. We kept fighting and fighting.”
And fight they did.
The Nets played the fourth quarter without All-Star point guard Deron Williams, who was on a strict minutes limit. He played almost 22 minutes and dished out nine assists before sitting down.
The Cavs unveiled center Andrew Bynum, who hadn’t appeared in an NBA game since May 21, 2012. He missed the entire preseason, and the Cavs had been coy about when they were going to put the 7-foot, 294-pounder in a game.
“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” he said of his 7-minute, 34-second stint in the first half.
When the Cavs activated him before the game, it was a signal that they were going to play the two-time NBA champion. He entered the game with 3:40 left in the first quarter to a standing ovation. He was active, with three points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks. He was 1-of-5 from the field.
“I feel good right now,” Bynum said. “I’m going to have to see how I feel tomorrow. The team is going to be very cautious. I’m going to be very cautious.”
Brown decided that once he took Bynum out of the game, he wasn’t going to put him back in.
“We’re a different team with him out there,” Brown said. “I coached him in Los Angeles. He still has room to grow. It was exciting to see him out there.”
Cavs power forward Tristan Thompson had 18 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving seemed to be in a funk offensively for most of the game. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and a team-high nine assists. He shot just 4-of-16 from the field.
His biggest assist came while falling to the court with 28.1 seconds left. He found center Anderson Varejao, who dropped in a 14-foot jumper for a two-point edge, 93-91. The Cavs never trailed thereafter.
Brown said he used to cringe when Varejao attempted a shot.
“He was wide open,” Brown said. “I didn’t think twice about it. Part of it is my maturation. I might have been too uptight at times.”
Nets center Brook Lopez had a game-high 21 points, five rebounds and three blocks. Forward Paul Pierce contributed 17 points, while Jason Terry added 14 points.
“Obviously, it hurts, but we have to go back and look at the reason why we lost this game,” Pierce said. “Throughout the season we have to understand it’s always going to be about the little things. To be a championship team, you have to clean those things up.”
Forward Kevin Garnett had eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
“There’s going to be a little more impatience, but everyone has to be patient,” Garnett said. “We’re not a perfect team by far, but we are a hard working team. We’re a team with no excuses.”
Nets interim coach Joe Prunty stepped in for Jason Kidd, who is serving a two-game suspension issued by the NBA for driving while impaired.
Prunty wasn’t happy with the outcome.
“It’s a game of runs,” he said. “I think a lot of comes down to first game of the season, people are getting comfortable with each other. In the game of basketball, there’s going to be runs.”
Pierce missed a 20-footer with 15.8 seconds left. Irving grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He deposited both free throws for a 95-91 advantage.
The Cavs’ starting backcourt of Irving and Dion Waiters struggled in the first half, shooting a combined 3-of-13 for six points. Luckily for the Cavs, their backups were outstanding.
Jarrett Jack (12 points, two assists) and C.J. Miles (10 points) shot a combined 7-of-11 in the first half.
“Jack had a calming effect offensively and defensively,” Brown said. “He gives us a veteran’s presence. I thought he was good, especially in the first half.”
The Cavs destroyed Brooklyn 48-37 on the boards, but they shot just 41.7 percent from the field, compared to the Nets’ 40.2 percent.
“It was a gritty, grimy game, just like I like it,” Brown said. “I’m sure Brooklyn didn’t feel they played their best. Because of our defense, that allowed us to get the win. The thing that was consistent was our ability to defend and rebound. They bought in.”
NOTES: Prunty finished last season as a Cavs assistant. ... Nets F Andrei Kirilenko, bothered by a stiff neck, was inactive. ... The Cavs are the second-youngest team in the NBA. They average 24 years, 156 days. ... Cavs C Tyler Zeller was available to play less than three weeks after he was rushed to the hospital to undergo an appendectomy. ... The Nets have six players on their roster who have been All-Stars: Garnett, Joe Johnson, Kirilenko, Lopez, Pierce and Williams. ... SF Earl Clark, a free agent acquisition, made his first start with the Cavs, winning a battle with Alonzo Gee for the job. Coach Mike Brown likes Clark’s 6-10 frame and his ability to defend.