David Blatt likened his first NBA exhibition game to a one-on-one matchup in the backyard.
A family affair.
"If you’ve got a brother and you go to play outside, you’re dying to beat him," Cleveland’s rookie coach said. "But if you do, you feel (bad). There was no way to really win that game."
LeBron James scored 12 points before resting in the second half and the Cavaliers gave Blatt an emotional win over his former team, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 107-80 on Sunday night.
For Blatt, the matchup with Maccabi, a club he coached for six seasons and led to several championships, was a challenge from the start.
"I was nervous before the game, but not because it was the first time I coached in the NBA," he said. "I was playing against my friends."
The Cavs wore down the defending Euroleague champions, who were within 15 at halftime but couldn’t stay with a team expected to contend — if not win — an NBA title this season.
Following the game, Blatt hugged his former players and Maccabi’s coaching staff, a group he considers his "brothers."
James, who rested his "iffy" back as a precaution, sensed how much the game meant to Blatt.
"He was very nervous, excited, uptight — and rightfully so," James said. "He has a lot of ties to that team, a lot of ties to that community, that city, that country and his first real game is against his former team. So I don’t know how much he slept last night."
James is being smart with his back. He was kept out of a practice Friday, and after discussing things with Blatt, decided to sit out the second half. The superstar spent the last 24 minutes on the bench watching his teammates pull away from one Europe’s best squads.
Kyrie Irving added 16 points and Kevin Love 11 rebounds for the Cavs, who held a 64-36 rebounding advantage.
Sylvan Landesberg scored 23 and Jeremy Pargo 18 for Maccabi.
Blatt’s focus is on getting the Cavs ready for their Oct. 30 season opener against the New York Knicks. There’s work to be done.
Cleveland’s ball movement was fluid from the start as players unselfishly made the extra pass hoping to get a better look at the basket. But there were some uncertain moments offensively as well as the Cavs get better acquainted with each other.
Maccabi’s players, running a system Blatt taught them, were able to get easy baskets in the first half. Landesberg, who played at Virginia, scored 12 in the opening half and Alex Tyus added 10.
Cleveland made an adjustment at halftime and the defense was much closer to Blatt’s high standards in the second half.
The Cavs showed some of the new weaponry that will make them so difficult to defend.
On a baseline inbounds play late in the first half, James alertly passed the ball up top to Love, who knocked down a 3-pointer. Love, not known for his defense, then drew a charging foul as the Cavs took a 59-44 halftime lead.
With James on the bench — Shawn Marion started for him in the second half — the Cavs outscored Maccabi 28-16 in the third quarter. Dion Waiters had 12 in the period.
Blatt’s arrival in Cleveland was met with some skepticism as to whether he would be able to adjust to the NBA, its players and handle the pressure to win — especially with James being back.
But Pargo, who played one season for the Cavs, said Cleveland is in good hands.
"He doesn’t look at you like coach to player or you are beneath him," Pargo said. "He looks at you as a man and he talks to you. That’s one of the greatest things about him. And from a coaching standpoint, he has ways of managing personalities and managing games. He’s unbelievable. He’ll be very successful in the situation he’s in."