Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 11/11/14
He lost the mask. He joined the starting five. He put up a career-best 20 points, providing a flurry mid-range jump shots, right-handed hooks, and the occasional slash to the rim. Tyler Zeller, at least for one night, looked like an NBA-caliber center in what was just his 23rd professional contest — his first as a starter. Most importantly:  He was comfortable. After having missed several games earlier this season with a concussion and a broken orbital bone, Zeller returned to action with a plastic mask — one which he would never grow accustomed to. He would joke about making it a part of his uniform, similar to veteran guard Rip Hamilton, but the truth was in his actions: every time Zeller had a second to remove the mask from his person, he would. One of the two straps which were supposed to keep the mask affixed was always loose, bouncing around his neck like a mid-90s Croakie. Entering the game immediately following warm-ups rather than coming of the bench allowed for a different Zeller than Cavalier fans have grown accustomed to over the early portion of the season. The rookie big man has accrued his minutes, but coming off of the bench and often falling victim to match-up-based moves has often provided for an up-and-down output. Playing with the starting unit, running alongside Kyrie Irving and getting to be an integral part of the team rather than a substitute allowed Zeller to show glimpses of what he can do if put in the right position. Many variables were in play for Zeller’s big night. The end result was yet another Cavalier loss as Boston’s Paul Pierce partied like it was 2002, but for the rookie big man, milestones were undoubtedly met. The scoring total was undoubtedly a function of playing time as Zeller netted a career-high 36 minutes in the wake of an Anderson Varejao knee injury. Slotted alongside Tristan Thompson for a good portion of the game, if the Cavaliers were to have any offense from its starting frontcourt, it was coming from the long-time Tarheel; he attempted 15 field goals on the night, also a career high mark. He got to the line. He moved without the ball — seven of his nine converted shots were assisted. And he proved to be a weapon from various spots on the floor, hitting four of his eight shots beyond 16 feet. And, of course, the mask. That lightweight piece of plastic that had been a heavyweight burden; the protective shield that only served to cut off peripheral vision, forcing Zeller to completely turn his head before unfurling a touch shot. It was gone. Not exactly the most intimidating look, eh? Like a child who can’t stop licking his or her teeth after having braces removed, there were moments in Wednesday night’s loss where Zeller found himself looking for his mask when coming out of timeouts. He would sustain a blow to the face prior to a timeout, a sequence that he claims allowed him to build confidence that he can begin playinghisgame once again, not having to worry about wayward elbows.  And, per Zeller, the feeling was “incredible,” as if he had finally been freed from a ball and chain that merely masqueraded as clear polymer. “Im very thankful to be done with it, and hopefully I don’t have to go back to it,” Zeller said. Naturally, Zeller’s ability to stretch the floor led to a few downsides, specifically a mere three rebounds — a tough task for a seven-footer who netted 36 minutes on the floor. He also failed to block a shot, though the Celtics’ center on the evening, Hall of Fame-bound Kevin Garnett, was held to a workman-like 12 points and six rebounds after hitting several of his token mid-range jumpshots. Replacing Anderson Varejao will always be a tough task, but the possessions created by the Brazilian big man were obviously not replicated by the rookie. There is little doubt that Tyler Zeller is the best true center on this Cavaliers basketball team. He’s great at running the floor, he can hit shots from multiple spots. Given additional time alongside Irving, it is easy to see that a former Blue Devil and a Tarheel could mesh to become a fairly lethal pick-and-roll combination. But as small as the sample size has been on Zeller thus far, the number of games like Tuesday night are far outweighed by the ho-hum nights that have littered the residual. But the glimpses are there. The mask has been removed — hopefully for good. And if given additional opportunities, Tyler Zeller has the chance to become one of the more feel-good stories of this otherwise depressing 2012-13 Cleveland Cavaliers campaign. – Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Kentucky seeks one kind of history, Coach K makes another

Matt Stafford's fiancee rips newspaper over article

Craig Sager's leukemia has returned

Frozen Four: Providence earns first bid since 1985

Report: Discussions to bring NFL team to L.A. are progressing

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Chris Mullin expected to take St. John's job

Michigan State beats Louisville, punches Final Four ticket

Ex-NHL player viciously attacks opponent before game

Rick Barnes a possibility for Tennessee coaching job?

Report: NFL looking into Bill Belichick's camera ideas

Saints CB Brian Dixon arrested in Miami

Five soon-to-be NBA free agents with a lot on the line

WrestleMania 31 results: Rollins cashes in, Rousey appears

WATCH: Russell Wilson hits home run during Rangers BP

Hooked 'em: Why Texas had to fire Rick Barnes

Adam Morrison trolled fan who made JJ Redick comment

Jim Harbaugh finished fourth in student government election

WATCH: Notre Dame gets warm reception upon return home

WATCH: Kris Letang hospitalized after hit

Aaron Rodgers, sports writer get into it over on-court access

Sam Dekker's hot shooting sends Wisconsin to Final Four

Jim McElwain complains about Florida roster

Mark Few: I put Coach K up there with John Wooden

NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Full WrestleMania 31 recap and results

Why Texas had to fire Rick Barnes

Craig Sager's leukemia has returned

Report: Chris Mullin to take St. John's job

Report: NFL looking into more cameras

CC Sabathia goes off about spring stats

John Fox: Cutler will have to earn job

Texas eyeing Shaka Smart, Gregg Marshall?

WATCH: Brady jumps off cliff in Costa Rica

WATCH: 2 Chainz beats Nique in HORSE

NFL owners chose cost over game integrity

Be careful how loudly you cheer on Mo'ne Davis' olive branch

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.