Cleveland won its home opener, crushing the Indiana Pacers — last year’s fifth seed in the Eastern Conference — 110-99 in front of a lively sellout crowd at re-imagined Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Saturday night. It’s the Cavs’ first win of the season. Victory No. 1 for John Beilein in the NBA.
The festivities started before tipoff.
The Cavs put down a special throwback court to match the 90s-inspired orange, blue and black jerseys. Following player introductions, the organization honored Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, Larry Nance Sr., Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and legendary broadcaster Joe Tait — all of whom have their jerseys (or microphone) hanging in the rafters.
Thurmond’s wife, Marci, took his place. Ilgauskas couldn’t make it to Cleveland because of a prior commitment. Daugherty even delivered a gracious speech, showing his excitement for the 50th season in Cavaliers history.
During the first timeout, the Cavs paid tribute to late broadcaster Fred McLeod, who passed away Sept. 9 before what would have been his 14th straight season as the television play-by-play announcer. After a couple of conversations leading up to the opener, the team opted to bypass the typical moment of silence, choosing instead to have a “moment of celebration” — much more appropriate for the jubilant McLeod.
The celebration extended onto the court.
In the words of McLeod, Kevin Love went video game on the Pacers early. The face of this new era, the pillar who may one day have his No. 0 jersey hanging next to those same Cavaliers legends, the reserved leader who is hoping to lay the foundation for a brighter future, Love scored 19 points in the first half, helping the Cavs build a 21-point halftime lead.
The Cavs pushed it to a game-high 24 at one point in the third quarter, before thwarting a Pacers late-game push.
Love started the day chatting with Price at the team’s practice facility about the art of shooting. He apparently picked up some passing tips. Love finished with 21 points to go with 13 rebounds and nine assists. He exited to well-deserved applause with 20 seconds left and shared a moment with Beilein.
Tristan Thompson, Love’s frontcourt mate and defensive anchor, repeatedly pounded his chest and amped up the crowd with dunks, jump-hooks, blocked shots and customary hustle plays.
With less than a minute to go and the Pacers trimming the deficit to seven, it was sweaty palms time inside the arena. Thompson attacked his defender and buried a right-handed floater that gave Cleveland a needed bucket and forced Indiana to call timeout. As the Pacers retreated to their huddle, Thompson gesticulated to their bench before celebrating with his teammates. The Cavs could sense their first victory.
One of the best nights of his career, Thompson even made his first career 3-pointer. With the shot clock ticking down, the center gathered the ball beyond the arc and launched his 10th career triple from the left wing. The bottom!
He finished with 25 points, four below his career-high, to go with 13 rebounds in 35 dominant minutes.
Collin Sexton (18 points), Darius Garland (12) and Jordan Clarkson (15) also reached double figures. Sexton extended his streak of scoring at least 16 points to 19 games, a stretch that goes back to last season.
When the buzzer sounded, Nance grabbed the ball from the official at midcourt and grasped it tight. It was a piece of history.
“Coach Beilein’s first win,” Nance said during Love’s on-court interview.
Indeed. A wine and gold, er, orange and blue winner.
John Henson, acquired last season in a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, entered the game at the 4:11 mark of the first quarter. It was his Cavs debut and first action since Nov. 14, 2018.
Henson looked a bit rusty initially, missing three free throws and committing a turnover during that first stint. But Henson started to settle in and showed glimpses of why the Cavs were so excited about his early-camp performances. He made an impact in the third quarter, which included his first made basket in nearly a year with 2:20 remaining in the third. He finished with three points, three rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Late in the fourth quarter, Beilein attempted his first coach’s challenge. Love and Domantas Sabonis battled for a rebound, which was initially ruled Pacers possession. After a review, the call was confirmed. Beilein lost the challenge and a timeout.
Thompson swatted a pair of shots, giving him 400 for his career. He joined LeBron James, John “Hot Rod” Williams and Ilgauskas as the only players in franchise history with 400 blocks and 4,000 rebounds.
The Cavs travel to Milwaukee for their second road game this season at 8 p.m. Monday night.