CLEVELAND — There were 20,562 screaming people in the stands at Quicken Loans Arena, almost all of them armed with a red or white glow stick for pregame introductions.
Music industry mogul and team shareholder Usher, who almost never showed his face in the lean years, was sitting with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
Mike Brown was coaching his first regular-season game in Cleveland since being fired by the team in 2010.
And last but certainly not least, Andrew Bynum played in his first NBA game in more than 17 months.
Given all that, the Cavs figured they might as well go ahead and win their season opener Wednesday night, which they did, 98-94, over the talented but old Brooklyn Nets.
“The fans were an incredible sixth man for us,” veteran guard Jarrett Jack said. “I thought the guys really gave them something to cheer about.
“We had lulls at times when our offense didn’t flow and we didn’t take advantage of some opportunities, but our fans stuck right there with us. We didn’t let our level of play fall by the wayside, either.”
It was a team effort for the Cavs, who got 18 points and nine rebounds from Tristan Thompson and 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists from Kyrie Irving, who persevered through a 4-for-16 shooting night.
Jack had 12 points off the bench, all in the first half when Cleveland desperately needed offense, while starting center Anderson Varejao had 11 points and eight boards. Dion Waiters overcame a poor start to finish with 11 points and C.J. Miles added 10.
“The fight and the belief were there the whole time,” Brown said.
Irving, who picked up two early fouls and didn’t score his first points until 28.4 seconds left in the first half, set up Varejao for the biggest hoop of the game.
Irving seemingly dribbled all over the floor at breakneck speed and, just when it appeared he was about to get completely out of control, flipped the ball to Varejao for a foul-line jumper that made it 93-91 Cleveland with 28.1 seconds remaining.
“If he wouldn’t have shot it, I would have been upset with him because he was open,” Brown said of Varejao.
Following a timeout, Brooklyn tried to clear a side of the floor and let 6-foot-7 shooting guard Joe Johnson muscle his way inside against the 6-4 Waiters, but Waiters held firm, forcing Johnson to kick the ball out.
Paul Pierce ended up missing a long step-back jumper from the left wing and Irving rebounded, was fouled and made two free throws to put the Cavs up 95-91 with 13.7 seconds to go.
That was the beginning of the end for the Nets, who saw the door get totally closed when Varejao made a free throw to put the Cavs up four with 3.0 seconds left.
“That allowed us to get the win,” Brown said of his team’s defense. “Our guys stayed after it.”
So did the 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum, who last played for the Los Angeles Lakers on May 21, 2012. He entered the game to a standing ovation with 3:40 left in the first period and played the next 7:34.
“He looked good,” Brown said. “You could tell we’re a different team when he’s out there.
“You guys only saw a taste of what he can bring to the table,” the coach added. “It’s exciting.”
The 26-year-old Bynum finished with three points on 1-for-5 shooting, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks. He did not play in the second half.
“I don’t think I’ve accomplished anything yet,” said Bynum, who smiled throughout his postgame session with the media. “I want to get back to the caliber I was playing before. It’s going to take some time.”
Center Brook Lopez led the Nets with 21 points, but missed a key layup in the fourth quarter. Pierce had 17 and Jason Terry had 14 off the bench, including back-to-back 3-pointers that tied the game at 82 with 7:33 left.
Down nine after three periods, the Nets also tied things at 86 and 91, but never took the lead while playing without point guard Deron Williams, whose minutes were limited to 22 because of an ankle injury that forced him to miss all but the last preseason game.
“There were many times in that fourth quarter where we could have folded,” Brown said.
But with all the hoopla surrounding their opener, the Cavs didn’t do that.
“The fans here are so flippin’ electric,” Brown said. “It’s such a neat atmosphere.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.
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