Kyrie Irving didn’t dwell over his dubious debut for more than a minute.
Life in the NBA moves too quickly for reflection.
”It’s on to the next one,” he said. ”To survive in this game you have to have that attitude.”
Cleveland’s rookie guard scored just six points and hardly played like the No. 1 overall pick as the Toronto Raptors spoiled Irving’s entrance into the pros with a 104-96 season-opening win over the Cavaliers on Monday night.
Irving, who played just 11 games as a freshman at Duke before leaving, finished just 2 of 12 from the field – he made a meaningless 3-pointer in the final minute – with seven assists and one turnover in 26 minutes. The Cavs are counting on the 19-year-old to turn around a team that won just 19 games last season.
”It’s disappointing,” Irving said. ”You want to play really well when the whole world is watching. It’s a learning process.”
Toronto, which went only 22-60 last season, won its first game under coach Dwane Casey. He was an assistant last season for the champion Dallas Mavericks.
DeMar DeRozan scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth for Toronto, which had seven players score in double figures. Jose Calderon scored 15 points with 11 assists, Amir Johnson had 13 points and 13 rebounds, Leandro Barbosa scored 14 and Andrea Bargnani 13.
”It’s one game,” Casey said. ”I don’t want to get too excited on wins and I don’t want to get too upset on losses. There are 65 more games.”
Ramon Sessions led the Cavaliers with 18 and rookie Tristan Thompson, taken three picks after Cleveland selected Irving, added 12.
Alonzo Gee had 15 points and Anderson Varejao 14 points and 10 rebounds for Cleveland, which pulled within 82-80 on Daniel Gibson’s layup with nine minutes left, igniting a crowd at Quicken Loans Arena hoping to see the Irving era start with a win.
But DeRozan came up big down the stretch, scoring nine points in the final six minutes. His jumper from the right corner put the Cavs away in the final minute. Toronto seemed to make the right pass whenever it needed one, and more often than not, the shot went in.
”This is not a democracy offensively,” Casey said. ”We want to make sure we get the ball where we want it to go. This is not a my-turn game. It’s not a rec league game. We want to make sure our offensive players who are closers get the basketball.”
Although it was assumed Irving would start, Cavs coach Byron Scott didn’t inform the youngster that he would be on the floor for the opening tip until the morning shootaround. Scott broke the news to Irving by telling him to ”put on a red (practice) jersey on.” Cleveland’s starters wear wine-colored tops during practice.
Scott offered Irving some advice before his first game as a pro.
”I told him to relax and have fun,” Scott said. ”You only get to do this once, where it’s your first NBA game. I told him to enjoy the moment, but when that ball gets thrown up to get back to business.”
Afterward, Scott wasn’t disappointed with his young point guard.
”He looked OK,” Scott said. ”For playing in what was probably his fifth game in a year, he looked all right. He had seven assists and one turnover. The only thing he didn’t do was shoot the ball well. Other than that, I thought he did a pretty good job.”
Irving didn’t fare as well as some of the league’s top point guards in their openers. Last year’s top pick, John Wall, scored 14 with nine assists for Washington. MVP Derrick Rose had 11 and nine assists in 2008 and Chris Paul scored 13 with eight rebounds in 2005.
Irving didn’t show any nerves before tip-off. He popped on large headphones and listened to music while sitting in a chair in front of his locker.
It was only when he got on the floor that Irving seemed a little overwhelmed. He started slowly, missing his first three shots and didn’t score his first point until making a technical with 3:50 left in the first half. He scored his first field goal five seconds later, banking in a runner from the right side.
But he forced other shots and the Raptors never let him get into a rhythm.
”I was a little bit too tentative out there and thinking about my shot,” Irving said. ”I have to push through it mentally and physically.”
Irving was mostly unfazed by the loss. He spoke matter of factly about what went wrong and was already looking forward to Cleveland’s next game – at Detroit on Wednesday.
”It’s just one game.” Irving said. ”We’re 0-1 and we’ve got 65 games to go. It’s a learning process for me.”
Notes: Gee survived a spectacular crash after a dunk that was waved off in the second quarter. Gee threw the ball down – he was called for traveling – grabbed the rim, and nearly did a backward flip before landing on his neck and shoulders. He got up, brushed himself off and went back on defense. Even LeBron James tweeted ”Ouch!!” after watching Gee’s tumble. ”Oh my God,” Varejao said. ”That was scary,” … Toronto backup C Aaron Gray was kept out as a precaution because of a rapid heart rate. Gray, who signed with the Raptors as a free agent when camp opened, may visit a specialist at the Cleveland Clinic while the team is in town. … Toronto F Jamaal Magloire is the Raptors’ first Canadian-born player. … Cleveland’s home opener was not sold out for the first time since 2004.