Cleveland, OH – Kyrie Irving and fellow second-year pro Tristan Thompson picked up the slack after the Cavaliers squandered a late double-digit lead, as Cleveland pulled out a 94-84 victory over the Washington Wizards to open the NBA season.
Irving, the reigning Rookie of the Year, netted 29 points, while Thompson scored seven of his 12 in the final two minutes of a close game. Thompson also grabbed 10 rebounds for a frountcourt that earned a 54-39 advantage on the glass.
Anderson Varejao was a big reason behind the discrepancy, pulling down a career-high 23 boards -- 12 offensive -- for the Cavs, who went 21-45 and finished in the basement of the Central Division last season.
"I just tried to do my job, just tried to be active," said Varejao. "It was one of those nights when [rebounds] kept coming. It was fun."
The Wizards, who had one less victory than Cleveland, were led by Jordan Crawford's 11 points.
Playing without starters John Wall (knee) and Nene (foot), Washington got a boost from its bench after a discouraging start.
The Cavs carried a 12-point lead, 74-62, heading to the fourth quarter, but Washington's reserves ran off 14 straight points to start the final frame, the final three coming on Jannero Pargo's deep make less than four minutes in. It was the first time the Wizards led since it was 17-15 midway through the first quarter.
The hot stretch was only temporary, as Cleveland held the visitors to one field goal over the final five minutes.
Alonzo Gee tipped in a Dion Waiters miss to break an 80-80 tie with 4:48 on the clock, and Irving made a deep jumper several possessions after Varejao added two free throws.
Earl Barron put in a reverse layup to stop Washington's drought, but Thompson answered with three consecutive baseline dunks, the last coming off a nice feed from Irving for a comfortable 92-84 lead in the final minute.
"Irving was pretty good tonight, and Varejao and Thompson dominated our bigs inside," Wizards head coach Randy Wittman said.
Cleveland scored the final seven points of the opening quarter to take a 31-24 lead, and went ahead by as many as 15 points in the second.
Irving had 14 points in the first half, which ended with the Cavs holding a 50-39 cushion.
Varejao also handed out a career-high nine assists to go with nine points ... Waiters, the fourth selection in the 2012 draft, scored 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting ... Bradley Beal, taken one pick before Waiters, netted eight points for Washington ... A.J. Price, starting for the injured Wall, made just 2- of-13 from the field, finishing with seven points and six assists ... Cleveland committed 21 turnovers and forced 13.