The Indiana Pacers came into tonight's game winless in the preseason (0-5) and on the second night of a road back-to-back. The Cleveland Cavaliers got blown out of the building. So the result is disappointing, right? Actually, not at all. The Cavaliers starters races out to a 16-5 lead that involved suffocating defense, outstanding ball movement, and burgeoning chemistry between Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. Anderson Varejao continues to work himself back into game shape. Partnered with Thompson down low, the two more than held their own against David West and Roy Hibbert.
In a game that the Cavaliers ultimately weren't factors in, every starter other than Earl Clark had a positive +/-. WIthout Jarrett Jack, CJ Miles, or Tyler Zeller, the bench was a trainwreck. This is ok. When the Pacers went on their decisive run at the end of the 3rd quarter, Thompson, Varejao and Irving were long gone, but David West was still on the court with several other members of the Pacers rotation. Tristan Thompson, in particular, was fantastic. He finished with 11 points on four shots, 8 rebounds, a block, a steal, and an assist and was 5-6 from the free throw line. He played really good defense on David West, though he did pick up 5 fouls in his 21 minutes of action. Still, if you have hopes that Thompson can develop into the third best player on a championship game, the 22 year old had an encouraging game. In the postgame press conference, Brown said that he hadn't even called a play for Thompson but that "his buddy" Kyrie probably had. That chemistry will serve Cleveland well.
Anthony Bennett's shooting numbers weren't pretty, but he was incredibly active. Watching him figure out what he can and can't do offensively was really fun. He ended up with a double-double, and I believe his rebounding and energy will make him a good member of the rotation, as a rookie. This is outstanding. He will have a manageable role, spend a lot of time on the court with Jarrett Jack, and get valuable learning for a team striving for the playoffs. I have written that this is a great situation for him, and I really believe that. He has the tools to become a great offensive player; it might take time.
The Cavaliers, if they want to be good this season, are going to need Irving, Thompson, and Varejao to play at a high level. And that might happen. If they do, the rest of the roster, whether it is Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters, or a combination of the rotation players Mike Brown employs, will be good enough to make this a playoff team. We still have no idea what Thompson, Waiters, and especially Bennett are going to be. But there have certainly been enough signs that they can valuable pieces to a puzzle.
I will have more thoughts on the game in the coming days, after player interviews and listening to Mike Brown's press conference.