The Cleveland Cavaliers entered the final quarter of play with a 12-point lead. Anderson Varejao had already surpassed his career high of 20 rebounds and Kyrie Irving was hitting from everywhere on the floor, something that Wine and Gold fans didn’t see much of in the preseason. It looked as if the Cavs were going to cruise to their first victory of the season, but a 14-0 Washington run, led by point guard Jannero Pargo, stalled any such efforts.
Then rookie and No. 4 pick Dion Waiters made Cleveland’s first points of the fourth quarter. A three-point shot from the former Syracuse sixth man put the Cavs up 77-74 and sparked a 20-8 run to end the game, securing the 94-84 win. Quicken Loans Arena erupted, a sound that Waiters wasn’t used to the first time his name was announced in the Cleveland venue.
When it was announced that Waiters would be Cleveland’s first pick in the 2012 draft, boos encompassed Euclid Avenue. Now after a better rookie debut than Irving had last year against the Toronto Raptors, it looks as if Cavalier nation is set on making the backcourt of Irving and Waiters a staple of the team. The reigning Rookie of the Year finished the game with 29 points and six rebounds, shooting 11-of-20 from the field. Waiters finished with a team-leading three steals and 17 points, outperforming the player that went one pick before him in Washington’s Bradley Beal.
Beal, who saw early success, struggled for most of the game. When Waiters picked the pocket of his sure-to-be rival Bradley Beal and proceeded to “throw the hammer down,” it seemed like the perfect moment “in your face” moment. Beal finished the game shooting 2-of-8 from the field, while adding eight points as a starter.
That was the deciding factor for the Cavaliers, as the starters out performed their counterparts in a very impressive showing from the frontcourt duo of Varejao and Tristan Thompson. Early on it was clearly evident that Thompson had really honed in on his defensive skills, coming away with an early steal and dominating in the paint at the end of the first half. The 2011 No. 4 pick logged 32 minutes and recorded his first of many double-doubles this season, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The real workhorse on the boards, though, was Varejao. As mentioned earlier, Varejao had over 20 rebounds when the buzzer indicating the end of the third quarter rang. Despite a very disappointing preseason, one that was full of lackluster rebounding attempts, Varejao started the 2012-13 season with one of the most impressive performances of his career. The Brazilian wonder recorded a team-high 23 rebounds (12 offensive) and nine assists. Andy’s aggressiveness on the offensive glass helped him to find his open targets.
With the way the starters played, the game should have been decided well before the final quarter came to a close. Due to a concerning bench performance on both sides of the ball, the Cavaliers allowed the Wizards to get back into the game and at one point regain the lead. On the night the Washington bench outscored Cleveland’s 46-23, led by an 11-point effort from Jordan Crawford. Crawford accounted for five points and two assists in the fourth quarter flurry that came up short.
A disappointing bench performance had one bright spot in Daniel Gibson. Gibson had seemed to lose his shot last season and went down with an injury before he had a chance to regain his magic touch from a season ago. “Boobie” looked like he was in rare form on Tuesday night, completing 2-of-4 three-point attempts and adding 10 points to the Cleveland effort. The frustration came in the form of C.J. Miles, a player who had looked good all preseason long, Samardo Samuels and Omri Casspi. They were for different reasons though.
Miles hadn’t shot efficiently in the October exhibition games, but he had been a high scorer for the team. He made only one shot and turned the ball over three times in his 18 minutes of play. A rough start, but I expect the adamant worker to correct his flaws from his first game in Wine and Gold. As for Samuels and Casspi, head coach Byron Scott didn’t give either of them time off the bench. The most surprising part of this is that Luke Walton saw minutes this season before either of them. I’m usually in agreement with Scott as far as coaching lineups go, but something more should have been done earlier during that 16-0 run and those two aforementioned players should have saw time over the ones who were struggling.
With all that said, however, I am very pleased with how the Cavaliers opened the season. There were a lot of questions that went unanswered in the preseason that concerned me. I now think that Waiters lives for those big moments. Remember, this was his first game starting since he was in high school. Even though Andy had an incredible one-man performance and Irving almost matched his career-high on the first game of his sophomore season, you can’t discredit that with what Waiters did in his debut. He shot close to 50 percent and was aggressive, something that was nonexistent in the offseason.
The Cavaliers will look for their second win of the season when the Chicago Bulls comes to visit the Q on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Although it’s only one game, Cavalier fans have something to be excited about again.