After nine months off, the Cleveland Cavaliers are back — and with a win.
Behind a combined 49 points and 11 assists from Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — plus a near triple-double for Larry Nance Jr. — the Cavs beat the Charlotte Hornets 121-114 on Wednesday night in Cleveland. The game was the first of the season for both teams.
Sexton led the Cavs with 27 points — 12 of which came in the first quarter — and five assists, while Garland finished with 22 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, and just one turnover. With defacto backup point guard Dante Exum out with injury, Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff staggered their minutes in an effort to keep one of them on the floor at all times. And it clearly worked — both played as well as they have in their respective careers.
Nance, meanwhile, was the glue holding everything together for the Cavs. place of an injured Kevin Love, he finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and a team-high eight assists, plus 3 steals and 2 blocked shots. Notably, he was often used to leverage his passing and feed Andre Drummond near the rim.
Drummond had a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Rookie Isaac Okoro, starting at small forward, had 11 points on 4-5 shooting and 5 assists in his debut. In his Cavs debut, JaVale McGee 13 points, and 7 assists.
Cleveland led by 21 at the half, but saw its lead whittled down in the third quarter as Terry Rozier scored 15 of his game-high 42 points in the quarter. The Cavs, though, handled the pressure well enough and strung together good play down the stretch to get the win.
The blemish on the night for Cleveland was Dylan Windler leaving the game in the third quarter. With 2:53 to play, Winder drove to the rim and was fouled by Gordon Hayward. When he hit the floor, he was holding his hand/wrist area and ultimately left the game with what the team called a “wrist injury.” Because he could not shoot his free throws, the Hornets were allowed to pick a replacement shooter and picked Marques Bolden. Bolden missed both. After the game, Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said that that Winder’s X-rays came back negative.
Up next: The Cavs play on Saturday in the first half a back-to-back against the Pistons in Detroit. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.