Cleveland, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Anderson Varejao's tie-breaking jump shot with 28.1 seconds left helped get a promising season for the Cleveland Cavaliers off to a terrific start, while simultaneously spoiling the anticipated unveiling of the Brooklyn Nets' star-studded core.
The upstart Cavaliers outplayed the experienced Nets down the stretch to come away with a 98-94 victory at Quicken Loans Arena and make head coach Mike Brown's second tour of duty behind the Cleveland bench a successful return.
Tristan Thompson netted 18 points for the Cavs, who haven't won more than 24 games in the three seasons since Brown was fired and LeBron James famously took his talents to South Beach following the 2009-10 campaign. Brown, who won 313 games and made the playoffs in all five of his seasons during his initial go-around in Cleveland, was brought back in April to mold a young Cavaliers squad that showed its considerable talents in the opener.
Star point guard Kyrie Irving overcame a 4-for-16 shooting display to chip in 15 points, nine assists and several big plays down the stretch to help Cleveland prevail.
The Nets made a giant offseason splash by landing perennial All-Stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett along with fellow accomplished veteran Jason Terry in a blockbuster nine-player trade with Boston. However, the expected Eastern Conference contenders couldn't get over the hump in this one after fighting back from a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter.
Pierce finished with 17 points and Terry made four shots from beyond the arc in a 14-point effort off the bench. Garnett scored just eight points, but pulled down a game-best 10 rebounds in the loss.
Brook Lopez paced Brooklyn with 21 points in the team's first of two games with new head coach Jason Kidd serving a suspension for a prior DUI arrest.
Cleveland began to create some distance by putting together a strong third quarter in which it shot 54.5 percent. Back-to-back buckets by Thompson put the Cavaliers up by a 73-64 score with 4 1/2 minutes to go in the period, and the lead grew to double digits late in the frame on an Alonzo Gee triple that made it a 79-69 game.
The battle-tested Nets climbed back in it, though, recording the first six points of the fourth quarter and pulling even with 7:33 to go when Terry sank consecutive treys to forge an 82-82 deadlock.
It was all knotted at 91-91 entering the final minute after Pierce buried a 3- pointer and Garnett fed Lopez for an easy layup. Irving then misfired from long range on the other end, but Earl Clark saved the rebound and Irving found Varejao open at the top of the key. The energetic center calmly swished through a 14-footer to put the Cavs back in front with 28.1 seconds left.
Pierce missed the mark on a contested shot on the ensuing possession, with Irving fouled after pulling down the rebound in traffic. The All-Star guard hit both bonus shots for a 4-point lead, then made two more with just 5.9 seconds showing after Terry's 3-point try also clanged off the iron.
Brooklyn's new-look and well-paid starting five was impressive early on, hitting on its first four field goal attempts in jumping out to a quick 12-2 advantage. The Nets owned a 24-16 edge with three minutes left in the opening quarter, before reserves Jarrett Jack and C.J. Miles combined for all of Cleveland's points during an 11-2 run that closed out the period.
The clubs traded the lead a total of nine times during a tightly contested second quarter, with Irving sending the Cavs ahead by a 49-48 score at the break by converting a reverse layup with 28.4 seconds remaining.
Assistant Joe Prunty served as Brooklyn's acting head coach in Kidd's absence ... Cavs center Andrew Bynum saw his first game action since Game 5 of the 2012 Western Conference semifinals on May 21 of that year, while then with the Los Angeles Lakers. The offseason addition, who sat out all last season with knee troubles while with Philadelphia, had three points and three rebounds in eight minutes ... Cleveland forward Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in this past June's draft, went 0-for-5 from the field and managed just two points over 15 minutes in his debut ... Jack had 12 points and Miles 10 to lead a Cleveland bench that outscored Brooklyn's reserves by a 34-28 margin ... Forward Andrei Kirilenko, another of the Nets' notable veteran offseason pickups, did not play due to back spasms.