The game wasn’t close and it wasn’t against a “real” NBA team, but it was worth the wait.

A First look

The world got its first look at the new Cleveland Cavaliers team when the LeBron-led squad squared off against current Euroleague champions Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Cavs Quicken Home Loans Arena on Sunday night.

Tristan Thompson led the Cavaliers with a double-double by scoring 14 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in 19 minutes of action. LeBron James scored 12 points and dished out 4 assists in the first half before sitting out the entire second half and watching his teammates complete the 107-80 win.

Emotional Win

As expected, the much deeper Cavaliers wore down the visiting team. Maccabi was just down by six points at the end of the first quarter but the lead ballooned to 15 at the half. The Eastern Conference favorites then exploded with a 28-16 third quarter that sealed the victory.

The win was emotional for first time NBA coach David Blatt who admitted to being nervous before the game because “he was playing against his friends”. Blatt is an Israeli-American player who left Maccabi Tel Aviv after the team won its sixth Euroleague title to pursue an NBA coaching career with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Other than that, Blatt must have been happy with what he saw.

Making adjustments

Although the team showed the defensive issues that detractors had warned, Maccabi was a legitimate opponent and not just a pushover. They showcased the offensive flow that Blatt has been preaching since the very first day he arrived at Cleveland. Ball movement led to easy baskets by Sylvan Landesburg and Alex Tyus. The Cavaliers made the defensive adjustment in the third quarter and started to pull away.

Rebounding was the key for the Cavaliers as they won the battle of the boards 64-36. Kevin Love only took six shots and scored eight points, but he managed to grab 11 rebounds. Anderson Varejao came off the bench yet he collared 15 rebounds and provided his usual energy. After the game James said that his team “shouldn’t lose a rebounding game this season.”

With Love, a former NBA rebounding champion and the wily Varejao, rebounding could be their meal ticket on a defense that is definitely a work in progress.

No shortage of points

Offensively, there was no shortage of scoring. The self proclaimed best backcourt in the NBA led the offensive charge with 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup Kyrie Irving scoring 16 points and Dion Waiters adding 15 markers. It can be recalled that Waiters proclaimed last week that he and Kyrie were the best backcourt duo in the NBA. That remains to be seen although the Cavs could make a claim for the best scoring team in the NBA with the talent they have.

The Cavaliers looked very smooth on offense with good ball movement and by making extra passes. But like any newly formed team, the danger of over-passing was visible.In one play, Kevin Love made an extra pass to an open LeBron James who was on the wing. James passed on the open three, drove to the basket and kicked out to Waiters who missed the shot.
Coach Blatt acknowledged that unselfishness is going to be a “good problem” early on for the Cavs.

Scary good

Aside from that minor concern, the rest of us saw glimpses of how scary the team could be in offense. With Irving running the show, the Cavs running game was fluid. With the abundance of shooters around him, he lanes have never been wide open for LeBron James to create. With a lot of weapons in town, Kevin Love didn’t have to take many shots to be effective. And yes, with a loaded line-up, James was able to watch the game in the second half and rest a sore back.

There’s no question that with the abundance of talent in the team, The Cavaliers are going to have a lot of offensive luxuries that could cover up for their supposed deficiencies in defense. And although there are a lot of growing pains to be expected from this title favorite, they are as real as advertised.

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