It was a relatively rough outing on Monday for the Cleveland Cavaliers depending on what you were hoping for. Kyrie Irving's NBA debut wasn't awesome, neither was Omri Casspi's Cavaliers debut, but at the same time Tristan Thompson exceeded most everyone's expectations. Of the Cavaliers three core pieces 23-years old or younger, last night belonged exclusively to Thompson. During the time he spent on the floor, Tristan provided some real promise in an otherwise dismal game for the Quicken Loans faithful, and even went as far as helping his new team get back into the thing for a couple minutes down the stretch too. Sure the Raptors are and will be all season a pretty awful NBA basketball team, but nevertheless Cleveland did rally from down as many as 14 points in the third quarter to manage that diff down to 4 midway through the final period. Then Tristan Thompson went to the bench though, seated next to Ramon Sessions, and the Raptors ran away with the game one victory.
Anyways, below are a collection of thoughts on the opener broken up into a series of bold faced headlines in the event you were only interested in skimming through:
Decision to play Irving over Sessions in 4th quarter:
If the Cavaliers would've played Ramon Sessions over Kyrie Irving (6 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal) in the 4th Quarter they did stand a much better chance of winning Monday night's game. This is no knock on Irving specifically, but Sessions was probably the Game One Team MVP. Byron Scott defended the decision to play Irving after the game though by saying that Kyrie would be better off in the long run having the opportunity to learn from that experience of trying to close out a tight NBA game. Which is probably true I guess, and it's also probably the right call with respect to Irving's growth. That is more important than actually beating the Raptors in the whole scheme of things, but maybe it would've also helped Kyrie and everybody else had they actually won the game instead of giving all the momentum they had right back by sitting Sessions and Tristan in the final minutes too. I can see it both ways actually.
My answer moving forward to a situation like that is to just go ahead and play Irving with Ramon Sessions. Kyrie was already playing alongside Daniel Gibson anyways, and Booby is not bigger than Ramon by any stretch. If the idea that led Scott to starting Irving was to surround him with the best veterans possible, something that he said he thought he was doing pregame by starting him alongside Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, and Anderson Varejao, than you somehow have to work Sessions into that back-court alongside Irving too. Currently, Ramon appears to be the best guard on this roster by a considerable margin.
Antawn Jamison Took A Lot Of Shots, The Majority Of Which He Missed:
Ramon Sessions did more single-handedly to help Tristan Thompson make a successful NBA debut than AP, Antawn, and Andy combined to do in helping Kyrie make his. The 20 shots that Antawn took didn't do much to allow Omri Casspi to assert himself either in my opinion, but missing 14 of those shots did even little to help Kyrie. Antawn Jamison can do all the "mentoring" he wants in practice, but if he is going to play like this I don't see how he can actually help this young group develop. Still only the first game for Tawn though, and it's his first one in a while too coming off that injury last year, so we won't get too caried away on with that point just yet.
The Tristan Thompson Era Has Begun:
Man did this Tristan Thompson kid look good. Best part about his game was his activity too, and he absolutely exceeded expectations in his NBA debut. Raise your hand if you had him going for 12 points and 5 rebounds if you knew he'd only play 17 minutes. He was a live wire all night, even converted a back to the basket post move, and said afterwards that after running up and down a couple times the butterflies were gone. From there he said it just felt like any other game, and it looked like a stage he was most definitely comfortable on. Even more to his credit, he did his damage while being paired up in the front court with Ryan Hollins who is a simply a horrible player. All Hollins did was stand there and watch Tristan Thompson jump up and down and play as hard as he could while contributing nothing to the cause himself. I can only imagine how effective Tristan will be with anybody but Hollins out there next to him.
Each of the 960 Seconds That Ryan Hollins Played Should Have Been Played By Samardo Samuels:
Samardo Samuels didn't play at all based on a decision that Coach Scott made, and that was the wrong decision. Only the first game, coaches can make mistakes too, but that decision needs to go one hundred percent the other way in Detroit on Wednesday. If you want to create a winning culture, a winning attitude, than you need to play guys who leave everything they have on the floor every second that their out there. Even if one guy is getting paid way more money than he should be, and the other is an undrafted free agent who is undersized height-wise to play the Center position in the NBA. Hollins is tall, that's his best quality as a basketball player, and he finished his 16 minutes of live game action collecting only ONE rebound while he was out there. He's a seven foot high jumper too as a reminder. Hollins also went 0 for 3 with 0 points missing 3 shots from the paint. But back to the positives.
Tristan Thompson was awesome, here's some video from Tristan postgame:
Ramon Sessions played real well too:
Sessions went 6 for 12 from the floor, 2 of 4 from three, and finished with 18 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds. It was refreshing to see him respond to coming off the bench the way that he did, and Sessions absolutely helped Tristan Thompson make a successful debut. He found Tristan more than once inside for easy finishes early, and that's what a veteran PG should do to help a Rookie big find his way through is first NBA game. Sessions only had one turnover as well, and made the decision to clear way for both he and Irving by way of the Baron Davis Amnesty Clause continue to look like a smart move early on.
It's Time We All Admit That Alonzo Gee Isn't Too Bad:
The spill that Gee took in the first half looked worst than anything James Harrison can ever do to any QB's head, and all he did was bounce back up and play very well for the rest of the game afterwards. Along with Tristan, Gee (15 points, 3 assists, 3 steals) was a big time reason the Cavaliers got back into this thing. He took all the minutes my man Skyenga could've played, but it was understandable to even me based on the way Gee conducted himself out there. Byron Scott said on Christmas Eve that Gee was the player who improved the most this offseason, and he is absoultely correct about that. Oh and if you weren't sure about how Byron Scott feels about Alonzo Gee, he played him more minutes than anybody else (28 minutes) except for Jamison and Varejao on Monday.
Stats That Indicate Your Team Got Pummeled:
The Raptors blocked 9 shots as a team, the Cavaliers blocked 1. The Raptors had 35 assists as a team, the Cavaliers had 21. The Raptors had 45 rebounds as a team, the Cavaliers had 37. The Raptors shot 43% from three point range, the Cavaliers shot 30%. The Raptors shot 53% from the field, the Cavaliers shot 41%. The Raptors starters scored 59 points combined, the Cavaliers starters scored 45. The Raptors had seven guys in double figures too, there's more but that's all I feel like mentioning.
It's Just One Game:
This season is going to be a long one, and while this first game was certainly a down in a lot of ways, there will be some ups here too. Kyrie isn't going to go 2 for 12 every night, and it is also a positive that he was able to get his first game out of the way too. It might have been easier for him to come off the bench on Monday, but he was obligated to start based on where the Cavs picked him and maybe he wasn't exactly ready for that just yet. No worries though, he absolutely will be ready soon. And in the end, maybe Kyrie does grow from having played down the stretch over Sessions and maybe that is worth more than beating the Raptors on Monday night. At least hopefully it is because that was a game the Cavs probably needed to win. Schedule only gets tougher every time these Toronto Raptors leave town.