CLEVELAND, Ohio — Collin Sexton seems to like his new digs.
Not just the state-of-the-art renovated locker room that awed players as they walked through the glass double doors for the first time hours before tipoff on Saturday night.
In Sexton’s first game at Quicken Loans Arena — his new NBA home — the 19-year-old rookie looked awfully comfortable, helping lead the Cavaliers to their second straight preseason win against the Boston Celtics, 113-102.
Head coach Tyronn Lue rested a handful of regulars, including starting point guard George Hill. That gave Sexton his first NBA start. No, the Celtics didn’t play Kyrie Irving, which would’ve been quite a test for the Cavaliers’ teenager, but a bulk of Sexton’s minutes came against point guard Terry Rozier, who manned Boston’s lead guard spot for all 19 games during the postseason.
Sexton wasn’t fazed. He was the first player on either team to reach double figures, pouring in 13 points on 4-of-6 from the field in 19 minutes during the first half, as the Cavs built a 15-point advantage and won the first 24 minutes, 58-43.
I talked to coach and he just told me to go out there and play my game,” Sexton said. “Make sure everybody is in the right spots and just be the leader on the court because George wasn’t playing. I had to step up and be that leader.”
In Sexton’s stints, Cleveland outscored Boston by 13 points. Most importantly, he continued to knock down outside shots.
The scouting report on him coming out of college was to go under screens, drop back and dare him to shoot from the outside. That’s better than allowing him to get into the paint using his lightning quicks and a solid dribble-drive game.
Each time the Celtics implemented that back-away strategy, Sexton burned them. All four of his made baskets came from 21 feet or beyond. He drained both 3-point attempts, making him 4-of-5 from long range in the preseason.
It’s a small sample size to be sure, but if the youngster continues to keep defenses honest by canning jumpers, it will open other areas of his game.
Sexton enjoyed the second half from the bench, smiling and joking with teammates while also encouraging point guards Kobi Simmons and Isaiah Taylor, among others.
It’s a season of firsts for the Cavaliers. It’s also a year that will be filled with tests. For Sexton, Tuesday marked his opening preseason game, as he hit a clutch jumper in the fourth quarter to hold of a Boston late-game rally and rose to the challenge in a boisterous building.
Saturday was his first start and first home game. He shined once again in a tough matchup.
“Collin did a great job,” Lue said. “When the lights come on he’s ready to play. He made some big shots, ran the team and ran the show.”
Two tests. Two passing grades. Not a bad start for the rook.
JR Smith makes up for lost time
JR Smith started his preseason with a bang. No, a shove.
About 30 seconds into his debut, Smith got tangled with Celtics center Aron Baynes while the two players were fighting for post position near Boston’s basket.
When Smith shoved Baynes in the chest, a mundane Saturday night preseason contest turned heated quickly. It wasn’t just Baynes and Smith either. Marcus Smart, who has a history of being temperamental, pushed Smith from behind and other teammates needed to step in before it became even more violent.
Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Rozier needed to restrain Smart, who kept trying to charge at the Cavaliers’ volatile shooting guard. Cavs center Ante Zizic also intervened, escorting Smith toward the baseline.
“For a guy who wants to be so tough in this situation, he leads the league in flops. Easily,” Smith said of Smart. “You can’t flop as much as you do and then be tough. How does that even work? And then you start slinging your teammates. Like, you didn’t come to play basketball today. You knew he didn’t want to play. Your coach told you you gotta play and you was frustrated. Then you try to take it out on somebody else.
“At the end of the day, I’m not going to sit here and lose money over trying to fight Marcus Smart. I’m not going to lose money over my (Supreme) tattoo, so why would I lose it over him?”
Both players received technical fouls after a lengthy review. Smart was then ejected while Smith waved goodbye from center court.
Smith didn’t play in the annual Wine and Gold Scrimmage. He sat out the preseason opener on Tuesday night in Boston. That was quite an entrance.
Sam Dekker seizes opportunity
In an effort to get some of his younger guys action in a non-practice environment, Lue rested Hill, Kevin Love, Kyle Korver and Tristan Thompson.
Sam Dekker took advantage.
Getting the start at power forward, he scored seven points on 3-of-6 from the field and 1-of-2 from beyond the arc. Dekker also added four rebounds, one assist, one steal and a highlight reel play that sent his teammates jumping on the sidelines.
Starting on the left wing, Dekker crossed over second-year man Tatum, sending him to the hardwood before capping the play with a tough contested layup.
The Cavs entered the night with two power forwards on the roster: Love and Dekker. That thin frontline will give Dekker a chance for consistent minutes, something he’s never gotten during his three-year career. In his first chance to open some eyes, Dekker didn’t disappoint.
Cedi Osman fills box score
Cedi Osman couldn’t build on his double-digit performance from the first preseason game. His shot, which continues to be a work in progress, wasn’t falling. He went 2-of-8 from the field and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc.
But Osman found other ways to contribute.
He pushed the ball up the floor and initiated offense in a way Lue has demanded since the opening of camp. The second-year player grabbed six rebounds, got his hands on a few loose balls and dished out three assists, one more than any other Cavalier during the first half — a time when a bulk of regulars were on the floor for both teams.
For Osman, there will be nights when his offense won’t be clicking. He’s still at his best in the open floor, not having to work against halfcourt defenses. But his game has always been defined by the little things that don’t always show up in the box score. That shouldn’t change because he’s penciled in as one of five starters and playing in LeBron James’ old spot.
Jordan Clarkson gave the Cavaliers a spark off the bench once again, tallying 12 points on 4-of-8 from the field.
Zizic, getting extended playing time against the team that traded him to Cleveland last off-season, chipped in with a game-high 20 points, making seven of his eight shot attempts and punishing the smaller Celtics in the paint. He also pulled down five rebounds and made all six of his free throws.
“Big Z has a good post presence, great hands, really good around the basket and he gave us an offensive spark in the second half,” Lue said.
Taylor, playing the primary backup point guard role and perhaps inching closer to solidifying the 15th roster spot, added eight points on 3-of-7 from the floor. He dished out three assists as well.
In all, Cleveland’s reserves scored 72 of the team’s 113 points.
So on a night when the veterans moved aside for the kids, Lue had every reason to be happy with the outcome. All the hard work behind the scenes was rewarded for the second straight game and the optimism was palpable.
The Cavaliers will host the Indiana Pacers on Monday night at The Q. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. The game will be on Fox Sports Ohio and WTAM 1100.