After a miserable start to the season, one that featured too many non-competitive losses, the Cavs snapped a six-game losing skid with a 136-114 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.
It was, indeed, a night of firsts for the Cavaliers.
It was the first game without Tyronn Lue, abruptly fired on Sunday morning following the team's fourth double-digit loss in six games. It was Larry Drew's first audition to be the Cavs' new leader, a chance to show why he deserves a contract restructuring before agreeing to guide the team in this new era.
First second-half lead. First game for Rodney Hood in a Cleveland uniform with at least 20 points.
Most notably, it was the Cavaliers' first time celebrating a victory.
"I really didn't know what was going to happen tonight," Drew said. "I just wanted these guys, in their mind, to try and put the first six games behind them as quickly as they could and be ready to turn the chapter with a new season, sort of. And they came out and took the challenge."
General manager Koby Altman felt his younger team needed a new direction and voice. With Drew at the helm, the changes were obvious. For one night, he looked like a better fit.
On defense, the issues were still apparent. The Cavs have too many deficiencies to be an elite squad at that end of the floor. But Drew demanded a new attitude. He challenged players to be tougher at the point of attack, to pester ball-handlers with a relentless aggression.
The Cavs also abandoned switching for the most part, which sometimes has a tendency to make players a bit lazier, simply passing the offensive player to the next guy rather than fighting through screens and staying in the opponents' hip.
"The one thing that we wanted to do going into this game is that we wanted to be the aggressor," Drew said. "I thought our last game against them, I thought we played on our heels a little bit."
The defensive adjustments led to 23 Hawks turnovers, with the Cavs turning those miscues into 28 points.
The intensity on defense carried over to the other side. The Cavs raced up and down the floor, using transition to create easy baskets. They had 13 fastbreak points.
Even when forced to operate against the Hawks' set defense, the offense looked sharp, scoring a season-high 136 points on 45-of-90 (50 percent) from the field.
Instead of repeatedly settling for mid-range jumpers, the Cavs stepped into the modern era for one night, canning 13 triples, shooting 52 percent from long range and keeping the disparity manageable against the 3-point happy Hawks, who hit just two more than Cleveland this time.
The Cavs also attacked the rim, scoring 46 points in the paint.
In past games, the Cavs would play well for stretches, showing some flashes. Only they were never able to sustain it. They couldn't put together that 48-minute game.
That finally changed against the Hawks, as the Cavs scored 78 points during a scintillating second half, outscoring Atlanta by 23 points following the break.
"Coming out at the start of the third quarter I was a little bit concerned because if you look at our last few ballgames, we've come out flat in the third quarter," Drew said. "Coming out flat we get behind and now we have to exert a lot of energy to catch back up. Tonight was different. I was very happy that we came out with a sense of urgency. During every timeout that's something I tried to reiterate with the team."
It was just the first game of the Drew era. No one knows how long it will even last.
But the Cavs put a tumultuous few weeks behind them and started writing the new chapter in their season story -- just as their new "voice" wanted.
In the first meeting between these two teams, a game that ended with the Hawks embarrassing Cleveland on its own home floor, the Atlanta starting backcourt finished with a 29-point advantage.
The Cavs flipped the script Tuesday night.
Hood and George Hill combined to tally 43 points. Hood scored a team-high 26 on 9-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc. It's the most he has scored since coming to Cleveland in a midseason trade last February.
"I knew I could continue to get better and I knew a game like this was bound to happen," Hood said. "I just stayed with it. Hopefully I, and us as a team, can carry this on throughout."
The Hawks duo of Young and Kent Bazemore, meanwhile, scored 31.
Point of emphasis
Ahead of Tuesday's game, while Drew was praising the Hawks, he put a point of emphasis on defending the 3-pointer. But it remains one of Cleveland's defensive weak points.
The Hawks, who entered the night ranked fourth in 3-point percentage, canned 15-of-35 (42.9 percent) from long range.
Sexton holds his own
The stage was set for Collin Sexton in his second matchup against fellow draft classmate Trae Young. It was Sexton's shot for payback after getting torched repeatedly by Young in the first meeting between point guards taken three picks apart in the 2018 NBA Draft.
This time, Sexton held his own.
The Cavaliers' rookie scored 17 points, including nine in the second half, on 4-of-10 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. He also dished out three assists and grabbed eight rebounds.
Young scored 24 points on 9-of-13 from the field and 3-of-4 from deep. But he had just four assists against three turnovers.
The Cavs will wrap up their three-game homestand against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.