CLEVELAND — Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said center Anderson Varejao “must be a nightmare” for other teams to prepare for.
Power forward Tristan Thompson called the wild-haired Brazilian “a horse.”
And point guard Kyrie Irving said it is “the greatest feeling in the world” to have the 6-foot-11, 260-pounder on his side.
All Varejao did Tuesday night was put up nine points, a career-high 23 rebounds and a career-high nine assists while blocking two shots in Cleveland’s season-opening 94-84 win over the Washington Wizards at sold-out Quicken Loans Arena.
Rick Roberson holds the team record with 25 rebounds at Houston on March 4, 1972, while Elmore Smith and Brad Daugherty both had 24 boards in a game. Varejao’s 12 offensive rebounds tied the franchise record held by Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who did it twice, and Michael Cage.
“I asked the referees if he could play five more minutes even though the game was already won just so he could get another point and another rebound (for a triple-double),” Scott said. “Nine points, 23 rebounds, 12 offensive, nine assists, he’s just so valuable with all the things he does for us — at both ends of the floor.”
With Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Joe Haden among the many Browns in attendance, Irving led the Cavs with 29 points while adding six rebounds and three assists, while rookie Dion Waiters debuted with 17 points, two boards, no assists, three steals and three turnovers in 28 minutes.
Thompson added 12 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high five assists — all of the latter came in the first half — and Daniel Gibson had 10 points for the Cavs, who fell behind in the fourth quarter after being up 16 midway through the third.
Ahead 74-62 after three periods — Varejao had 21 rebounds at that point after getting 12 in the quarter — the Cavs promptly got outscored 14-0 to start the fourth, when Scott went with an all-reserve lineup of Donald Sloan, Gibson, C.J. Miles, Luke Walton and Tyler Zeller.
“They made shots and we missed shots,” Scott said. “It’s really as simple as that.”
Scott first put starters Alonzo Gee (4 points) and Varejao back in, but didn’t go back to Irving, Waiters and Thompson until after the Wizards, who were minus their two best players in John Wall (knee) and Nene (foot), went up 76-74 on a Jannero Pargo three.
Waiters, who finished 6-for-14 from the field and 2-for-5 on 3-pointers, then hit a huge 3-pointer to put the Cavs up 77-76 with 7:00 left. Varejao was fouled on the play and hit the free throw for a four-point play, starting a 20-8 Cleveland run to close the game.
“It showed a lot of heart,” Scott said of his team’s ability to regroup. “It showed a lot of guts.”
Varejao set the tone throughout, chasing down balls all over The Q before closing the deal with some pinpoint passing. On two straight possessions down the stretch — he was at the foul line the first time and on the baseline the second — Varejao threw perfect bounce passes that led to dunks by Thompson, who made it three straight slams the next time down on an Irving feed.
“He’s a horse,” Thompson said of Varejao. “He might win the Kentucky Derby.”
Varejao, who was 3-for-7 from the field and 3-for-3 at the line, smiled when asked about his performance.
“It was one of those nights where you get one, two, three (rebounds) and they keep coming,” he said. “It was fun.”
It was a different kind of night for the Wizards, whose starters were outscored 71-38 by Cleveland’s. Jordan Crawford came off the bench to lead Washington with 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting, including 0-for-6 on 3-pointers.
The Wizards made 5-of-11 3-pointers in the first quarter but still found themselves down 31-24, then proceeded to make 3-for-21 from long range the rest of the night. Starting point guard A.J. Price was 2-for-9 from beyond the arc and 2-for-13 overall.
Scott praised his team’s defense, but Washington’s .356 shooting (32-for-90) was more about missing wide-open threes and uncontested 16-foot baseline jumpers than anything Cleveland did.
Fortunately for Cleveland, Varejao was all over the place as the Cavs outrebounded the Wizards 54-39 and finished with a 23-7 edge in second-chance points.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world to have someone where you know what you’re going to get from them every single night,” Irving said of Varejao. “That’s typical Andy.”
According to the Cavs, Varejao was the first player to put up at least nine points, 23 rebounds and nine assists in a season opener since the Philadelphia 76ers’ Wilt Chamberlain finished with 11, 30 and nine on Oct. 18, 1967. Varejao was the first player to put up at least those numbers in any game since Charles Barkley had 26, 25 and nine for the Sixers on March 20, 1987.
The Cavs used 10 players in each half, with Luke Walton a surprise participant instead of Samardo Samuels. Scott said he made the decision at the last minute.
Cleveland’s entire guard corps had four assists in 96 minutes. Waiters didn’t have an assist or a rebound until the closing minutes.
Rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal, taken by Washington with the No. 3 pick, made two early 3-pointers but finished with just eight points on 2-for-8 shooting, three rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes. He was picked clean by Waiters in the open court in the third period, with Waiters going in for a resounding dunk.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.