CLEVELAND — Mike Brown looked and sounded just like he did when he coached the Cavaliers from 2005-10.
In his first game at Quicken Loans Arena since being fired by the Cavs following an Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series loss to the Boston Celtics, Brown preached defense throughout Tuesday night in his team’s 99-87 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the exhibition opener for both clubs.
“It does feel surreal to me,” Brown said of once again coaching in The Q.
Though the Cavs were all over the place defensively in jumping to a 15-4 lead with 5:25 left in the opening quarter, Brown burned two full timeouts and a 20-second one in the first half, each coming after someone had blown a defensive assignment.
Brown used another timeout early in the fourth quarter — for the same reason — with the Cavs up 18, and yet another with 1:28 to go in the game and a bunch of seldom-used reserves on the floor.
“If I use all my timeouts and I get a technical because we go to a mandatory (timeout later in the game), so be it,” Brown said. “They’ve got to understand how important it is.
“This isn’t a weekly process or a monthly process,” he added. “It’s a play by play by play process.”
Brown, who owns a 314-167 lifetime record and the sixth-highest winning percentage in NBA history (.652) for those who have coached at least 400 games, hasn’t changed his style.
Defense was Brown’s staple when he led the Cavs to a 272-138 record in his first stint — his .663 winning percentage is the best of the 18 coaches in the 43-year history of the franchise — and it is his staple now.
“We just want to lay a foundation,” he said. “We can always circle back and add offense as the season goes along.”
The Cavs were 64-166 in the three seasons Brown was gone — some guy named LeBron James departed as well — and ranked last in the league in field goal percentage allowed last season under Byron Scott.
They’re unlikely to go from worst to first in one season, but they’ll definitely be better under Brown this season.
“Every little thing counts,” he said. “I want them to feel and know and understand it’s important to the staff. If it’s important to the staff, it has to be important to them.”
After frequently going under picks or not having any plan at all under Scott, Cleveland big men showed over the top on every high screen against the Bucks, with Tristan Thompson in particular doing an excellent job of forcing Milwaukee guards farther out on the floor.
“It’s one of our principles,” Thompson said. “It’s very simple: If you don’t do it, you don’t play.”
In another noticeable improvement from the Scott era, young guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters exerted a lot of effort trying to stop penetration, challenge shots and recover quickly when a teammate helped them out.
On one possession, Irving, who didn’t exactly play a ton of defense his first two years in the league, contested three shots.
“I was just chasing the ball,” he said with a smile. “We always preach multiple efforts. That’s one of our staples. That’s what’s going to make us a good team. That’s what’s going to turn us into a great team during the season.”
The Cavs’ effort led to the Bucks, who aren’t very good to begin with, shooting .377 from the field overall (29-for-77) and .222 on 3-pointers (4-for-18).
“The effort was there throughout the game,” Brown said. “I thought we tried to communicate on both ends of the floor.”
In addition to great defense, Thompson was 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from the line. He finished with 17 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes. As for his conversion to a right-hander, five of his field goals were layups or dunks and another was left-handed.
• Irving had 14 points and three assists in 23 minutes and Waiters had 12 points in 24 minutes, while C.J. Miles provided instant offense off the bench and finished with 12 points in 19 minutes.
• Big man and training camp invitee Kenny Kadj looked very agile in finishing with 15 points and five boards in just 12 minutes.
• No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett had seven points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes.
Bennett’s first four shots failed to draw iron. He glass-balled a 3-pointer from the top of the key on the second possession after entering the game, his next two shots were blocked and his fourth didn’t draw iron. He finished 2-for-12 from the field and 3-for-8 from the line — two free throws barely hit front rim — but Brown left the rookie on the floor to play through the rough spots and get in shape.
Bennett also committed four turnovers and blew a number of defensive assignments.
“Anthony and I had a few discussions tonight,” Brown said. “He was responsible for four of those five timeouts I called.”
• Waiters made his first two shots, but finished 4-for-11 for the night and still stood around a lot when the ball was not in his hands. Waiters did have a monster windmill slam late in the first half.
• Irving had five of the Cavs’ 26 turnovers.
• Earl Clark started at small forward but had just three points on 1-for-5 shooting. He also fouled out in 16 minutes.
The Cavs were without Alonzo Gee (right hamstring soreness), Tyler Zeller (left hip flexor strain) and Andrew Bynum (knee), while the Bucks were minus Ekpe Udoh (knee). Milwaukee also lost starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova to a sprained right ankle early in the second quarter.
• Savvy veteran combo guard Jarrett Jack’s locker is between those of Irving and Waiters, and it’s probably not a coincidence.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.