A Brief Oral History of Anthony Bennett’s Career Night against New Orleans

The last train to Canton appears to be canceled indefinitely. Sometime Tuesday afternoon, a decision had been made.

In the same arena where Austin Carr's jersey once proudly hung until it mysteriously didn't, Anthony Bennett would be scheduled for 30-plus minutes of NBA action.

No matter what.  

The Cleveland Cavaliers defense is collectively horrible at this point in the season. Their offense is even worse.

But all of that doesn't mean Bennett can't start doing things to demonstrate improvement as a professional basketball player. 

This was my prevailing thought, at least, as the Cavs allowed the visiting New Orleans Pelicans to shot 62 percent during the third quarter after previously allowing them to connect on 59 percent of their shots in the first half.

While Cleveland continues to lose, maybe he can play himself into some confidence. Maybe he can find all it is he seemed to have lost in the journey from Nevada.

The dreams of hosting a playoff game have died a miserable death anyway. At least for the moment they have. But Bennett, the rookie this team acquired after a season of methodical tanking, still has a chance to improve. Those who braved the torturous cold on Tuesday night trickled in wondering as much, it seemed.  

While the start to his NBA career has been all we feared it wouldn't be, it's also true that Anthony Harris Bennett had not played as many as 21 minutes in any one game with the Cavs prior to Tuesday.

He had also played as many as 20 minutes during an NBA game only twice. Victor Oladipo, meanwhile–who was selected second in the NBA Draft and off to a markedly better start than Bennett without question–logged 37 minutes in his second professional game and 31 in his third.  

But on this night in Cleveland, with the Canadian winter drifting down across Lake Erie in support of Bennett's efforts, a predetermined choice was made to allow him 31 minutes of hope, sweat and opportunity.

Whether he'd earned those chances or not.

Early on against the Pelicans, Bennett started slow. His first made field goal didn't come until the 6:31 mark in the second quarter on an assist from Kyrie Irving. The basket gave Cleveland a 41-35 lead. Bennett would check out of the game shortly after with 4:55 remaining in the half and Cleveland up 44-42. 

The Pelicans then went on a 14-0 run with Bennett sidelined to take a commanding 56-44 lead into halftime.

The Cavalier rookie would return to eventually collect his first rebound of the game with 7:20 remaining in the third quarter. He then followed a driving dunk with a three-pointer at the 9:44 mark in the fourth for his eighth points of the night–one off his previous career high of nine set on November 23 against the San Antonio Spurs. 

The driving dunk attempt that sent Bennett to the free throw line minutes later was and still is the most aggressive move I've seen him make in the NBA to date. His confidence appeared to rise as he elevated off the floor toward the rim, unaltered by the defender lurking in front of him. Unfortunately, for those openly rooting for a career high of 10 to be set at the stripe, he'd miss both FT attempts before closing out the quarter with emphasis.

His effort would even lead to whispers of a double-double circulating the arena. Those in attendance would come closer than anyone expected to seeing as much, too. By game's end, Bennett's 15-points would be a new career high. His eight rebounds also equaled the previous high he set earlier this month.

As his fifth field goal fell through the net with 25 seconds left, the 20-year-old once referred to as the Canadian Charles Barkley had connected on 5-of-10 field goals in total, 3-of-6 from three-point range. He attacked the basket, he rebounded and he played 11 more minutes than he ever had before. 

Afterwards, as the media gathered around his locker to discuss the performance, Bennett appeared more confident than I've seen him since first meeting the UNLV product at Las Vegas Summer League. He mourned the loss appropriately but seemed to also take some positives from the way he played. As well he should.

For a team spiraling like these Cavaliers are, maybe salvaging the rookie's confidence and career by season's end is the best thing they can do right now. And maybe Tuesday's 100-89 loss to the Pelicans will be a step towards accomplishing specifically that.

Photo: Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal

Brendan Bowers

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of StepienRules.com. I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine, Cleveland.com, BleacherReport.com, InsideFacebook.com and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.