BOSTON — In a year where nearly everything is supposed to be different, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first preseason game had a familiar vibe — and it started with the opening possession.
Kevin Love caught an entry pass along the baseline, faced the hoop and canned a 14-foot jumper. It was the beginning of his big night, which helped push the Cavaliers to a 102-95 win against the Boston Celtics Tuesday.
In past seasons, the Cavaliers ran the first play of the game for Love, hoping it would help him find an early rhythm. This season, it’s out of necessity.
That’s one of the many changes.
It’s Love’s team now. He’s in a new role — the hub of the offense, the go-to scoring option that the Cavaliers will lean on heavily. He’s the leader that’s expected to keep the team competitive in the aftermath of LeBron James’ departure.
It’s just one preseason game. There’s a lot of work to be done. The regular season will bring numerous challenges. The Celtics were playing without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. It was Boston’s third preseason game, fighting a bit of fatigue.
Still, the early results for the Love-led Cavaliers were promising, as the five-time All-Star showed flashes of being the player who once starred in a leading role with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It’s a great responsibility but I think it’s helping me and saying to myself that every day I have to bring it,” Love said following the win.” The big thing we talked about the last four years was as long as we play extremely hard and bring it every day we’re going to give ourselves a chance. This team, we have to do a little bit extra, do all the little things, but we have the guys in the locker room to be able to do that.”
Posting up on the block, initiating offense from the elbow and forcing his way to the free throw line, Love scored 17 points on 5-of-10 from the field, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range and 5-of-7 from the stripe in 17 minutes. He was done by halftime, as the Cavaliers — behind a dazzling movement-based offense and active defense — surged ahead by 19 points at the break.
“Guys are excited. Guys are super excited to play,” Love said. “It’s a new chapter for us, a breath of fresh air and we are on the right track so far.”
Rodney Hood, identified as the Cavaliers’ second scoring option by head coach Tyronn Lue recently, looked the part. He scored 10 points on 3-of-6 from the field in 19 first-half minutes.
Cedi Osman, starting in James’ old spot, tallied 11 points on 4-of-8 from the field.
His jumper continues to be a work in progress, as Osman made one of his four triple attempts. However, the second-year man who has been waiting for this bigger opportunity, acquitted himself well. He attacked the basket repeatedly and filled up the stat sheet, adding seven rebounds and four assists.
Both coaches only played their starters for one half (Cleveland won that portion of the game, 59-40). Lue rotated his first and second units in line changes throughout the first 24 minutes while some of the regulars played deep into the third quarter before mostly giving way to players fighting for end-of-bench roster spots.
The new bench unit — Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Korver, Sam Dekker and Larry Nance Jr. — opened the second half and picked up right where the starters left off.
In his NBA debut, Sexton looked anything but a rookie. He checked in for the first time at the 5:16 mark of the opening quarter and immediately showed off his speed, quickness and tenacity. His first basket came at the 2:54 mark of the first quarter on a goaltend.
On the play, Sexton cut behind the defense, received a pass from Nance and tossed the ball off the backboard before it was swatted away, getting credit for a layup.
The 19-year-old centerpiece of the Irving trade last off-season finished with 15 points on 5-of-11 from the field in 23 minutes. He even buried a pair of 3s — something that was thought to be a problem coming out of Alabama where he shot just 33.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Lue also provided Sexton with a good test, sending him back on the floor in the fourth quarter as the Celtics were making a late surge.
“Being in that situation in an NBA setting, great environment against a good team and having a chance to produce like he did,” Lue said. “Good for him, continue to keep learning. He’s going to make some mistakes, but the biggest thing is learning from his mistakes.”
Clarkson, asked to help anchor Cleveland’s second unit, tallied 12 points on 5-of-8 from the field in 16 minutes. New arrival David Nwaba chipped in with 12 as well.
JR Smith, who has been dealing with right hip soreness, didn’t play and it remains to be seen how Lue plans to use the former starting shooting guard. Lue said after the game that Smith will play in the second preseason game.
The Celtics were led by Marcus Smart. He scored 15 points. Marcus Morris added 14. Starter Jaylen Brown chipped in with 10.
At one point, as the Cavaliers were running the Celtics off their own parquet, an angry fan sitting behind media row shouted, “Take LeBron out of the game!”
Well, the four-time MVP is gone, clearing the way for another East squad to ascend to the top of the conference. But the Cavs showed Tuesday night, in a building where they celebrated two conference titles, they won’t give up that crown without a fight.
NEXT UP: Cavs host the Celtics on Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena.