Young Cavs give reason to take notice now

Think about this: Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are both 20 years old.

Then think about this: The Cavaliers could be 3-1 right now.

Then consider this: The Clippers were coming off a home loss to Golden State … facing a very young Cavs team … and back on their own floor.

Yet the Cavs won anyway, 108-101, in a fun and up-and-down game Monday that featured something resembling playoff intensity.

You can talk about Waiters’ breakout game of 28 points and 7-for-11 shooting on three-pointers.

You can talk about Kyrie Irving getting things started with 16 points in the first quarter, then finishing with 24 and a game-high 10 assists.

You can talk about Anderson Varejao just playing like an absolute animal (again), compiling 15 points, 15 rebounds and generally making life miserable for the Clippers’ big men.

But for the Cavs, this was a team effort in the truest sense, a big-time blow to a star-studded squad that comes with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and high expectations.

The Cavs, on the other hand, are supposed to stink. They know it, you know it, and the Clippers probably assumed it.

Well, forget all that.

Oh, there will be some long, dark nights. That’s the way it goes in an 82-game season when your two biggest threats aren’t old enough to buy a round at the local saloon.

But Irving and Waiters sure served up something special in front of the sellout Staples Center crowd on this night — thwarting every Clippers run with a big shot, pass or basketball play of their own.

Now think about this: A lot of people have been bashing GM Chris Grant and Waiters since the Cavs drafted Waiters with the No. 4 overall pick in June. A lot of people want Waiters to fail — for no other reason than it will mean they’re right.

They like to complain, point out the Cavs’ failures and aim to make others as miserable as they are.

Ignore those fools. And appreciate this team.

The Cavs want to be an exciting and opportunistic running group. That’s not easy when your starting lineup is an average age that’s a shade over 23. It’s usually a recipe for making coach Byron Scott grow his hair back for no other reason than to pull it out.

On Monday, however, it worked. The Cavs’ defense (particularly that of small forward Alonzo Gee) led to bundles of baskets. It kept the Clippers from getting into the up-tempo game at which they flourish. It made them slow it down and try to work out of a half-court set.

It made them, in a word, miserable.

And hey, how about Gee and rookie center Tyler Zeller?

Gee only scored eight points, but he dished off four assists and kept Paul (17 points, nine assists) reasonably in check. The Cavs haven’t had a perimeter defender like Gee in quite some time, and truth is, anything he does on offense is a bonus.

Meanwhile, Zeller had his best game as a pro, playing with confidence and determination on his way to 15 points and seven boards. His night ended with just more than 5:00 left in the fourth quarter — when he took an accidental elbow to the cheek from Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan.

On the bright side, X-rays were negative and Zeller will be re-evaluated before Wednesday’s game at Golden State.

Honestly, though, it seemed like just about everyone had a noteworthy night.

C.J. Miles buried a wild three-pointer and exhibited great energy. The man was desperate for a game like this, and he delivered.

Also, Tristan Thompson challenged everything on defense, and Daniel Gibson was the steady (and underrated) floor leader the reserves so greatly needed.

And let’s not forget Scott, who shortened the rotation and kept his best players on the floor without wearing them down. It was game management at its finest.

So there you have it.

A young team facing stacked odds in a major market — and finishing the job.

That’s excitement, and if the Cavs can keep it up, this season doesn’t have to be all about next year. You might just want to play close attention today.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO