On the same day the Cavs found out Anderson Varejao will be lost for another six to eight weeks with a knee injury (and surgery), they come out and play like a bunch of wild things.
They played with energy. They played with focus. They played with a purpose. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they’ve been doing this a while.
The end result: A fairly easy 99-83 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at The Q.
“Good win tonight,” coach Byron Scott was able to say for one of the rare times this season.
Scott told the Cavs before the game that “the biggest thing was just having fun.” He also told the Cavs to play hard, play smart and play together.
“I thought we did all three of those things,” Scott said.
The Cavs (9-28) have had a rough go of it lately. Not just on the floor, but in the world of public opinion.
In short, fans and media are getting crankier than the two old guys who sit in the balcony on The Muppets. Seemingly gone are the days when people consider that the Cavs use two rookies extensively and start two second-year players, who have finally played the equivalent of one rookie season.
On Wednesday, the two rookies (Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller) started alongside the two second-year guys (Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson). Alonzo Gee joined them, and while he is officially in his fourth season, it’s more like his second when talking about real opportunities.
So, that’s two rookies, two sophomores and a guy who spent the first two years of his career in NBA No Man’s Land.
And the Cavs won by 16 over a 20-win team.
What gives, coach?
“Just gaining a little bit more experience and being in that situation before,” Scott said.
Hopefully, it’s something Clevelanders will take it to heart. The Cavs are pretty much a college team when factoring in age. Especially on this night, when three of their oldest players (Varejao, Luke Walton and Daniel Gibson) never set foot on the court. A fourth, Shaun Livingston, hasn’t even been here a month.
Oh, and a fifth, C.J. Miles, rested with back spasms.
Then again, Irving has always played like a seasoned — and standout — pro. He finished with 33 points on 11-for-15 shooting, including a sizzling 5-for-6 on 3-pointers. It was almost as if the Hawks (20-14) had never heard of the guy before.
“He was able to get to where he wanted to on floor, (stayed) under control and made shots,” Scott said. “He had all facets going. He stayed within the moment and just made the correct plays.”
Not a big surprise considering what the Duke product has done in the NBA so far.
On the other hand, people may still be getting used to the idea that Thompson (11 points, 14 rebounds) has become something more than an everyday utility man in recent weeks. He’s become an actual threat, a 6-foot-9 power forward with great athleticism and developing skills.
“That’s the progression of his game,” Scott said. “He’s a guy who works hard at what he’s trying to do, and that’s becoming a better basketball player.”
Zeller wasn’t half-bad himself, playing loose for what seemed to be the first time since the fourth game against the Clippers. He finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and held his ground against the Hawks’ Human Hack, who also goes by the name Zaza Pachulia.
Meanwhile, Gee finished with an underrated 15 points and six boards.
Now, none of this is intended to shout “Glory, hallelujah!” to the basketball gods and pretend everything is fixed.
But the Cavs and their fans can be proud after games like these. The Cavs played with pizzazz, looked like a professional unit, overcame several bumps and put on an entertaining show.
Win, lose or injury to Anderson Varejao, that’s really all you can ask.