Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 12/20/12
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

Brady issues statement on Facebook after having suspension lifted

Don Orsillo reportedly asked to lie about being fired by NESN

Matt Cassel believes Bills will keep three quarterbacks

St. Louis police seize scalpers' World Series tickets to give to friends

Eli Manning happy Tom Brady will play NFL season opener

Phil Kessel has shed 13 pounds this summer

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Cam Newton addresses ‘gang’ photo on Instagram

Steelers defense is younger and faster but not better

Duke basketball to visit White House next Tuesday

Report: Cowboys have interest in Broncos RB Montee Ball

NFL owners to discuss changing Goodell's disciplinary role

Report: Eagles trade Matt Barkley to Arizona Cardinals

WATCH: Ben Revere gifted Matt Wieters a home run

Judge Sarah Thomas as an NFL official, not a female NFL official

Redskins skip Robert Griffin III in jersey countdown

Wisconsin vs Alabama preview

Simona Halep popular with fans who want to kiss her

Patriots planned on raising a "Brady banner on opening night

Braves and Phillies sucking at the same time is rare

Montana St. linebacker delivers bone crushing hit in opener

Despite loss, all eyes still on Jim Harbaugh, Wolverines

Kirk Cousins discusses what it’s like to be called ‘Kurt’

Playoffs or not, Bryce Harper is the NL MVP

Donald Sterling’s wife Shelly seeking alimony

Chicago Bears and Jay Cutler: A love/hate relationship

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

Wisconsin vs Alabama preview

Tom Brady issues statement on Facebook

Robert Griffin III and a dream deferred

Best, worst surprises of NFL preseason

The Gospel Of Harbaugh prepares for its ultimate test of faith

Meet the Utah Utes, the pluckiest program in college football

Iman Shumpert will name daughter Iman Shumpert Jr.

Dallas company celebrates Romo with DirecTV 'crownies'

Top 10 storylines for Week 4 of the NFL preseason

Matt Williams is still hopelessly married to the idea of the closer’s role

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker