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The start of Friday night’s Summer League opener was, at times, downright ugly. But as the game unfolded, the Cavaliers – who are trying to re-establish a physical, defensive identity – it turned into a thing of beauty.
The Wine and Gold’s summer squad held the Lakers to eight points in the second quarter and just 14 in the fourth, taking the lead midway through the final period and not looking back en route to a 70-62 win in Sin City.
“I liked our effort to stay with it,” said Summer League head coach Jamahl Mosley. “There were moments that we had lulls, but we never stopped playing. Defensively, obviously there are things we need to work on, but things improved as the night went on. We were attacking the ball in the pick-and-roll which was much better and we did a much better job shrinking the floor late.”
Cleveland got contributions from all three elements of any Summer League roster: young veterans, league invitees and recent draft picks.
Jermaine Taylor paved the way for the Cavaliers – coming out aggressive and pacing both teams with 17 points – going 5-for-9 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the stripe. Taylor, a second-rounder in 2009 who’s played for five NBA teams and in three different countries, was also 2-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Tyler Zeller followed up with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting. The sophomore center from North Carolina added seven boards and a blocked shot and had a nice rhythm going with fellow second-year pro, Dion Waiters.
Waiters didn’t shoot well from the floor, but led all starters with five assists – committing just a single turnover in 28 minutes of action.
“I’m not worried about my shot, I know I can score,” said Waiters following the win. “I tried to come out here, pass the ball and make the right play. A lot of people expect to come out here and get 30, and if I put my mind to it, I know I can. But it’s not about that. It’s about giving guys different chances to try to make the team or show what they got.”
Easily the most impressive rookie on the floor was Carrick Felix – the recent second-round selection of the Cavaliers.
The swingman from Arizona State got the start and did a little bit of everything on Friday night – netting 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting. He was 2-of-3 from long-distance and 2-of-2 from the stripe, adding six boards, a steal and a pair of blocked shots.
One of those swats – and one of his two treys – came in a key sequence midway through the fourth quarter.
Cleveland had trailed through most of the game, but took a one-point lead on Cory Higgins’ free throw to make it 57-56. Just over a minute later, Felix drilled a three-pointer to put the Cavs up four. On the Lakers’ next possession, Chris Douglas-Roberts attempted to answer with a three of his own. But Felix closed out quickly and smacked his shot past the Cavaliers’ bench – which erupted as the ball sailed past them.
Felix canned a second three-pointer minutes later off a nice assist from Waiters to put the Wine and Gold up nine, 65-56. The Lakers didn’t get closer than a half-dozen points the rest of the way.
“He’s a gritty, grind-it-out guy and that’s who he has to be for us,” praised Mosley. “I love his effort, I love his energy. And his ability to play the game with the right spirit is fantastic.”
The Cavaliers face off against Memphis in their next Summer League matchup on Sunday afternoon. They take on the Pelicans one day later and tournament play begins on July 17.