INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The Cleveland Cavaliers understand the difference between an exhibition game and the regular season.
That didn’t stop them from taking positives away from Tuesday’s preseason opener against the Boston Celtics, where Cleveland’s regulars dominated for one half and led by 19 points at the break. It looked even better when watching the film.
“We played really good,” Cedi Osman said following Thursday’s practice. “We shared the ball, our pace was really good, we ran well and I think we played really good.
“Even if it’s a preseason game I think that we showed people that we are going to surprise a lot of teams this year.”
Osman — along with the other players on the roster — knows there’s plenty of work ahead. Each practice, shootaround and even walkthroughs have become more important than ever, with teaching and player development at the center of the season plan.
With a younger squad, one with a new epicenter, mistakes will happen — perhaps as soon as Saturday night in the second of four preseason games. Learning from them is most important.
But the Cavs entered the opener feeling good about what they were doing in practice and they should be pleased with their performance in Boston.
Tristan Thompson said the focus is about them, not about the opponent.
Who cares if the Celtics were playing their third preseason game and have been struggling in the early going? Who cares that Kyrie Irving was resting? Who cares that Gordon Hayward is still getting re-acclimated following a gruesome leg injury that cost him all but six minutes of his first season in Boston?
The Cavs entered with their own goals and seeing those sweat-filled sessions carry over into a game situation was reason for optimism.
“It’s about how we can get better, how we can start building our foundation principles, especially defensively, that’s where we got to be sharp and be really at our best,” Thompson said. “Offensively, first unit, I like that we pushed the pace, played fast, we’ve got multi actions, guys got it going, sharing the ball, kind of like positionless basketball. That’s what we’re trying to do.
“The first unit did a good job. Second unit came in and JC (Jordan Clarkson) was who he is, who we need him to be, that scoring punch off the bench. Collin (Sexton) came in, made some big shots, showing he’s been working on his game. I think overall everyone did a good job. Saturday, kind of want the same approach, how we can continue building and getting better.”
Lue also took away positives. He first pointed to the pace. That’s his point of emphasis heading into the season, something he stresses every day. He has even given the green light to each player on the roster to grab the ball off the rim and go. Well, with two minor caveats.
“We’re going to work with Tristan,” Lue said through some laughter. “He tried to do it today and ran over six people. Outside of that I think everybody else can. (Kyle) Korver, break it out but then give it up at some point. We’ll see how that goes.”
For a team looking for any little edge, they might have found something early.
“T Lue wants us to play free,” Thompson said. “That’s the style of the NBA and he trusts us — myself, Larry (Nance Jr.) and Kev (Kevin Love), to bring the ball up and make the right plays. You guys saw what we did in the game, so we want to keep that going and I think that just makes us play faster. That’s what we want to do, play faster, high possessions, high-volume scoring. That’s going to be our advantage this year.”
Lue also liked the defensive effort against the Celtics.
A switch-heavy team, the Cavaliers need to build trust and communicate on that end of the floor. He saw that. When guards were switched onto post players, Lue saw help from the weak side while guards fought for position. Lue also noticed his team sprinting back in transition — a problem last season. The Cavs allowed just six fast-break points in the first half, before starters took the rest of the night off.
It certainly wasn’t perfect. But it was a start. A hopeful one.
“This year, everyone knows it’s going to be a big challenge for us but we are young and we are going to take that challenge,” Osman said. “I know we are going to be good.”