One of the many benefits of having the NBA back in our lives with a brand new season is getting to see players that lost most if not all of the previous year with injuries get back into the swing of things.
Last night, we got to see two NBA superstars make their 2010-11 debuts, New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul and Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut.
Bogut, who is not 100%, showed that he one of the hardest working players in this league. What he had to come back from was ungodly, so many injuries to his arm, ones that would keep a soccer star off the field. But he came back, played on opening night, and did work. He wasn’t sharp for most of the the night, he missed seven free throws and his first few post-ups resulted in some sloppy looks in the post, but he did the dirty work, grabbing 15 rebounds in 36 minutes while scoring 15 points as well.
The Bucks defended well as a team, as they have done since the beginning of last season, and Bogut had a lot to do with that. The Hornets shot just 57% at the rim thanks to Bogut’s work downlow, and Milwaukee’s wings did a solid job of rotation over for most of the night.
But they just couldn’t overcome the magnificent Paul. There are few players that are as fun to watch because of his ability to do everything on the offensive end. Distribute, push the pace, shoot, pull-up, roam, everything. Paul had 16 assists in this game, five of which came on buckets at the rim and other three came on three’s. He created efficient looks for his teammates all night long, getting everyone involved.
On one play in particular, Paul grabbed a lose ball after Trevor Ariza stripped the ball. He was alone down court but instead of laying it up, he waited a second for Ariza to catch up and handed it off to him for the jam. You can say he was padding the stats, but what he was really doing was getting his guy involved, and this one in particular was in need of some easy buckets.
Paul scored 17 on his own, on six-of-11 shooting with a three and a couple of beautiful mid-range shots. His quickness was there, in spurts, when he read the defense and reacted by attacking the lanes. Paul also drew two charges, adding yet another quality to his resume.
The most obvious connection for Paul in this game was the one between he and power forward David West. Most have probably forgotten just how lethal that duo is on the screen and roll. West is just so, so good offensively, that’s probably criminally underrated for his contributions on that end around the league. West had 22 points in this game, on nine-of-14 shooting. Eight of his shots were assisted on, seven of which were inbetween 16 and 23 feet. On the pick and pop, West delivered in this game, and Paul found him seven times in that area. The Hornets are going to win a lot of games with that play down the stretch, because Paul has the ability to do work on his own if teams overplay West.
The rest of the Hornets weren’t great on this night. As a team, they shot a respectable 43%, but Jason Smith’s three-of-10 performance, with five of those shots coming from 16-23 feet, and Trevor Ariza’s four-of-13 debut (one-of-six from three) hurt. Thankfully, the Hornets got a nice surprise from Marco Belinelli, their new starting shooting guard. Belinelli didn’t shoot all that well himself, but he did make six shots (18 points on the night), all of which were assisted, grab six rebounds, and handle the ball well for stretches. He attacked the basket when the Hornets’ offense was stagnant (mostly when Paul was out) and got to the line six times. Belinelli looked good tonight defensively as well, something that almost nobody would have expected.
Speaking of defense, that’s how the Hornets won this game, and it will be interesting to see if this is where the Hornets will make their money under Monty Williams this season. They allowed just 96.8 points per 100 possessions, a sterling mark. This is where Ariza helped out despite his poor shooting night, which was good to see. He grabbed five rebounds and came up with four steals on the game, and was strong on the wing for 41 minutes. Ariza absolutely has to do better than four-of-13 from the field, but if Williams wanted to make this into a defensive minded team, Ariza has shown that he was a good fit for the system.
Milwaukee had a bad night offensively. Scott Skiles’ drive and kick offense worked when the ball was getting kicked out to Carlos Delfino, who had five triples on 10 tries and a team high 19 points, but everybody else shot just three-of-13. Brandon Jennings didn’t help matters much when it came to shooting, going five-of-14 from the field. Jennings should be a lights out shooter at this level, but he just hasn’t been able to knockdown his shots consistently since that 55-point game last year. Jennings did have 10 assists, though, six of which created three-pointers. He’s a gifted passer, truly, but that shot will have to come in line soon for him to really be in the conversation with the best point guards in this league.
As expected, free agent acquisition Corey Maggette came in and hogged possessions for the Bucks. That may sound like a negative description of his night, but, at least in this game, he used his possessions well, shooting four-of-eight from the field and getting to the line eight times, something else he was expected to do. Drew Gooden had a big night as well, grabbing 11 rebounds and scoring 15 points. Rookie Larry Sanders will need to get more than the four minutes he got tonight, but Gooden figures to be a great rebounder alongside Bogut for 30 minutes a night.
This was not a great game overall for the Hornets, but their defense was fantastic, and thanks to Paul’s play down the stretch and throughout the contest, they were able to come out on top of one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Perhaps a combination of Paul’s brilliance and a defensive mindset instilled by Williams could have this Hornets team go further than most, including myself, thought. For a few weeks before the season started, the phrase “that’s why they play the games” was used more than a few times. The Boston Celtics, fresh off a defeat of the Miami Heat, the team that acquired LeBron James this summer, against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that lost James during the off-season and have since been sentenced to doom. Who did you expect to win?
Well, this game was played, and the Cavaliers came out on top.
The emotion, though the effort swayed for a stretch or two, was there and against a Boston team that was clearly not going at the same gear that they were the night before against the Heat, Cleveland was able to fight and fight to stay in the game before finally taking the lead in the fourth quarter and holding on for the win.
91.6 points per 100 possessions for the Celtics, who shot just 25% from three after hitting an unbelievable 50% the night before against Miami. Ray Allen was the man to blame, going 0-for-5 with two of those misses coming in oh so crucial moments in the fourth quarter. Boston’s offense didn’t seem to be all that inefficient on the surface. Rajon Rondo had 18 points on eight-of-12 shooting with nine assists and three steals and Glen Davis provided a great lift from the bench with 14 points on seven of-11 shooting. But Allen’s shooting from the floor overall and seven misses on 12 shots from Paul Pierce hurt.
The Cavaliers rode J.J. Hickson in this game. Ever since summer league this July, I’ve been praising Hickson’s ability and potential this season as the Cavs’ offensive focal point. Hickson had 21 points on eight-of-11 shooting and seven of his makes were assisted on. His rebounding was an issue, he had just six to Kevin Garnett‘s 15, but he was efficient at the rim and within 10 feet and even showed a mid-range jumper that looked good. With his athleticism and a pick and roll point guard like Ramon Sessions, a jumper from J.J. is not the ideal outcome of a set, but having it there would be such a weapon.
Anderson Varejao complements Hickson well. He’s a better natural rebounder and defender and will be able to help him on the defensive end if he gets beat. Varejao had 10 boards and four assists while playing his usual hard-nosed and energetic defense. Boobie Gibson chipped in late. After starting off 0-for-8, he had a couple big shots and was a great distributor, finishing with eight assists. Gibson figures to be the third man at the point guard spot for Cleveland, but when his shot is on, he’ll warrant some more burn.
Saying Cleveland is a legitimate playoff contender after this game would be as much of an overreaction as saying the Heat were done after last night. Boston, a team that has taken these second nights of a back to back lightly before, coming off of what will likely be their biggest win of the season, against a team that they admitted they didn’t take seriously, came out flat and was overcome by the Cavs’ emotional run late. But the Cavs competed, and if they do that, they will win these kinds of games. The close, scrappy contests that are won with a few big plays and stops. Defensively, this team looks ready to go, even without James on the wing, and their offense can score a bit if the pace is pushed. I still don’t think they are a playoff team, but they aren’t a team that’s playing for nothing. The Thunder caught me a bit off guard in this game. Not because I didn’t think they would win or because I didn’t think this team was exciting as they were. But because this team, in all seriousness, even with the extremely young group of guys they have, has a chance to be the best defensive team in the league this season.
They caught me off guard because, after a first half that was back-and-forth as you can imagine, they absolutely shut down Chicago in the final period, giving themselves a chance to make big shots on the offensive end while getting other easy buckets on the break.
Just 93.1 points per 100 possessions for the Bulls in this game, which is just a horrific offensive performance. For most of the game, the casual observer probably thought the offense looked a lot better than it did last year and I did to, specifically in that first period. But once the Thunder locked in, the ball stopped moving, the Bulls were clueless on offense and there was a ton of standing around while everybody waited for Derrick Rose to do something.
Early in the game, that plan worked. Rose was amazing, attacking the basket, avoiding contact and getting sick and unbelievable lay-ups to go. Truly magnificent and unique work by Rose with his finishes and hangtime. On every miss or make in the first half, Rose was getting the ball and pushing it down Oklahoma City’s throat. But as the game wore on, the Bulls weren’t able to get out on the break as often, which, in most part, was due to Rose’s foul trouble that kept him on the bench.
And once he returned, the lanes to the basket weren’t open, and Rose was forced into taking low percentage jumpers. He shot two-of-eight from 16-23 feet in this game and 0-of-4 from three, and his floater was taking the wrong bounce all night long. He had to take 31 shots because of how poorly the offense did of creating open looks and though he scored 29 points, that kind of efficiency is not ideal, especially with just four free throw attempts.
Free throws played a key part in this game. Oklahoma City shot a remarkable 47 free throws compared to just 22 for the Bulls. In fact, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook alone combined for 26 shots at the stripe. The refs seemed to be to play to the home crowd more than a few times and there were at least five blown calls in the second half that could have stopped the momentum from swinging for the Thunder, but they capitalized and they deserve credit for that.
Durant scored 30 in this game on nine-of-24 shooting, a poor game for him with six turnovers to just three assists, but like always he made due at the free throw line with 11 makes. Durant also had a trio of steals in this contest, which got the Thunder out on the break. And that’s where Westbrook thrived. Russell was the best player in this game, scoring 28 points on eight-of-15 shooting with 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a block. He attacked the rim just like Rose, but he got to the line 13 times because of his more reckless, power style at the basket. Westbrook did a good job of making sure he got to the basket (seven attempts there) and mixed it up with a few jumpers here and there, one of which he splashed in the final minutes of the game.
The third member of the Thunder’s trio, Jeff Green, had 21 points, but was just four-of-10 from beyond 15 feet and his shot selection, or at least where he spotted up from, was iffy. Plus, his four rebounds are unacceptable for a power forward, but thankfully Westbrook cleaned up the glass well enough tonight for that not to cause their downfall. Serge Ibaka helped as well, playing 32 bench minutes and acting, basically, as the Thunder’s starting center. He had nine boards and four blocks with eight points during his time and intimidated the Bulls from entering the paint late in the game.
Thabo Sefolosha was just as good on defense on the wings. He wasn’t checking a Kobe or LeBron tonight and Westbrook did a good enough job on Rose to keep him off of Derrick, so he got to roam around. He finished with two steals and four blocked shots, two of which came in transition on spectacular hustle plays. Sefolosha took three more shots than he should have, which is to say he took three shots, but he did have four assists and his contributions defensively were more than enough to compensate.
The only Bulls besides Rose to have good games were their starting frontcourt members. Joakim Noah had 18 points on seven-of-13 shooting with 19 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Noah was just a monster on the glass, tipping everything on both ends (he had seven offensive boards as well) so that he, or a teammate) could come up with the ball. Taj Gibson had 11 boards himself and shot eight-of-12 from the field. Gibson continues to look like a valuable core piece for this Bulls team because of his ability to throw up a double-double on any given night, even when he is backing up Carlos Boozer.
The Bulls could have used Boozer tonight. They didn’t have any scoring in the post and Gibson missed a pair of key mid-range two’s that Boozer usually drains. Additionally, Boozer is a bit better in the screen and roll than Gibson and he would have drawn more attention defensively. When the second unit came in, there was no ball movement for the Bulls and their only offense was C.J. Watson taking mid-range jumpers. And while he hit 50% of his shots tonight, that’s not the ideal result with the weapons the Bulls’ have. Ronnie Brewer, who lost the starting shooting guard spot to Keith Bogans in training camp, was 0-for-6 from the field and posted a game low -12 +/-. Brewer will need to improve his spacing offensively and if his shot is going to be this bad, he’ll need to be more adept at catching and finishing under the basket, which was not the case in this game.
Kyle Korver was particularly disappointing in this game. Moreso than the rest of the bench, Korver knows his role is to catch and shoot out of flex sets and, even though the Bulls ran plays to get him open time after time, he passed up a lot of shots and instead reset the offense. Credit the Thunder for chasing him along the baseline on screens but if you watched him last season, there was no hesitation on those 20-footers on the wing after coming up off down screens, even if his man chased him perfectly. He’ll need to be more aggressive, especially from deep (he took just one three), for the Bulls to have any spacing. If not, then Chicago will likely replicate their 14.3% performance from distance tonight, which is unacceptable.
Oklahoma City looked poised in this game and should easily be one of the league’s most exciting teams again this year. But watch them on defense, too. The Bulls didn’t have much of a plan with Rose on the bench with foul trouble, but they still shut them down during the fourth with Rose in the game. The Thunder are doing special things on that end of the floor folks. That youth with that production on defense is simply unheard of.
(Sidenote: Despite the electrifying series that created the Derrick Rose-Rajon Rondo rivalry two seasons ago, I am starting to think that a Rose-Westbrook is a better match-up going forward. Rondo is just so different than everybody else while Rose and Westbrook are similar in size and ability and are just so, so fun to watch. No slight to Rondo, but its a shame that Rose and Russell are in different conferences because this was quite the exciting match-up.)Playing without star point guard Tyreke Evans, the Sacramento Kings went down to the wire with the T’Wolves but came out on top thanks to some late free throws from Beno Udrih. Francisco Garcia had 22 points on seven-of-12 shooting for the Kings and Carl Landry added 22 points and 11 boards. Rookie DeMarcus Cousins had a foul-plagued debut but still managed to put in 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 27 minutes of play. On the down side, he took a three-pointer.
Kevin Love started off his campaign for the rebounding title with an amazing 10 board performance in just 24 minutes. He added a pair of three-pointers and it seems like his range from the FIBA World Championships is staying with him in the NBA. Syracuse product Wesley Johnson made his NBA debut in this game as well, posting a team high +14 with 13 points on five-of-10 shooting. I debated whether or not to bring this up, but Luke Ridnour had an excellent game for Minnesota, going for 20 points on eight-of-13 shooting with two three’s, six assists and five rebounds. After drafting all those point guards, Ridnour might be the answer. That must pain Minnesota fans.This was better. Not outstanding, but better. The Heat still had trouble getting into an offense and LeBron James had another turnover happy game (nine turns) but a string of four James Jones three’s in the second quarter, all of which were assisted by Dwyane Wade, helped give the Heat a margin that they would maintain until the final buzzer. The Sixers gave Miami a game for the first quarter, taking the lead on an occasion, but the Heat defense was too stingy to allow an anemic offense to get much going.
We got a pretty good idea of how James and Wade will work together this season in this game, or at least that’s what I think. After James went off for 31 last night, Wade had his night against Philly, dropping 30 points on 10-of-20 shooting with seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. We may see more of these kinds of games, where one star has a ton and the other goes for a mediocre total (16 for James in this one) rather than contests where both go for 30 as some may have expected before the season started. Jones finished with six three’s and 20 points while Chris Bosh had 15 points though his efficiency is still poor.
Not a lot went right for the Sixers in this game after their initial outburst, but rookie Evan Turner had a solid debut. Seven-of-10 shooting with seven assists and 15 points. Defensively, he was asked to guard Wade or James for all of his 31 minutes and he gave it his all on that end of the floor. His jumper (two-of-five from 16-23 feet) is still a work in progress but his effort level and ability to distribute and rebound the basketball appear to be ready to go at this level. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd got the season started off on the right note. Dirk had 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting with 13 rebounds and Kidd had 18 assists to go with 12 points. Jason Terry also poured it on with 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting. The Mavericks started this game off on an 18-0 run and they held Charlotte to 91.5 points per 100 possessions. Tyrus Thomas was the only bright spot for the Bobcats, scoring 22 points on eight-of-15 shooting with a trio of mid-range jumpshots. Gerald Wallace had 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals but shot just five-of-14 from the field. Charlotte has a lot of work to do offensively. If Denver was looking to give Carmelo Anthony a reason to stay right away, they did a good job of it in this game, defeating the Jazz by 22 in a 100 possession game with the crowd going crazy all night long. Anthony started off his season with 23 points and seven rebounds while Arron Afflalo pumped in 22 on eight-of-11 shooting. Utah had a horrible game all-around, looking out of place and out of whack all night long on both ends of the floor. Deron Williams had a poor game to start the post-Boozer era, going just three-of-1o from the floor for 17 points with just six assists to four turnovers. Al Jefferson was especially bad, playing 31 minutes while scoring just six points on six shots. The Nets lost their season opener last season on a buzzer beater and that was just the beginning to an 0-18 run to begin the year. They were determined not to let that happen tonight, fighting back during the fourth quarter while hitting some big buckets in the final minutes to seal the win. This was a poorly defended game on both ends, but it was exciting nonetheless. Devin Harris was one of the heroes. He had a crazy, floating AND-1 down the stretch and saved the ball on a crucial possession before kicking it out to Anthony Morrow for the game-winning three (essentially).
Harris finished with 22 points and nine assists and looks to be back into shape after a disappointing campaign last year. Brook Lopez was dominant, though he didn’t get much attention during the final minutes of the game. He had 25 points on 11-of-20 shooting with nine rebounds and three blocks. Personal favorite Terrence Williams had 10 points on five-of-eight shooting with six rebounds and four assists. He picked his spots, made open looks close to the basket and moved the ball. More from him, please. Rookie Derrick Favors had an impressive debut after a rough pre-season with eight points and 10 rebounds.
Charlie Villanueva was the goto guy in crunch time for Detroit, which is a problem. He took three three’s in the final 45 seconds and though he made one, that is a clear indicator of how poor their wing shooters are outside of Ben Gordon. Austin Daye had a rough debut to an anticipated campaign, going just two-of-eight from the field for for points in 21 minutes. Ben Wallace grabbed a game high 10 rebounds, he will likely do this until he is 50. It was odd to see the Spurs try to push the pace in this game, but it worked. 118.4 points per 100 possessions for San Antonio, though the defensive return wasn’t great. The Pacers made 53% of their shots and they likely would have been in this game had it not been for woes from the free throw line.
Tim Duncan continues to amaze, even as he ages. 10-of-12 shooting with 23 feet, abusing Roy Hibbert on the block. He also had three steals, three assists and four blocks. Just so, so good from the greatest power forward to ever play. Manu Ginobili had 22 points in this game and thrived with the increased pace, knocking down five three’s while getting four assists. Tony Parker added 20 points and nine assists.
2010 FIBA World Champion Danny Granger had his stroke going tonight, hitting 10-of-19 from the field for 26 points. Roy Hibbert added some great post work, having his way with Duncan on a few plays, as he scored 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting with nine boards, three assists and three blocks. Hibbert also had four makes from 16-23 feet and was great in the post. He will be excellent this year. Darren Collison‘s debut wasn’t great for the Pacers, but it was pretty good, 19 points on seven-of-13 shooting with seven helpers. That’s not a bad core right there and the Pacers will get some things done this year. Not against the Spurs, though. Amare Stoudemire‘s first game as a Knick wasn’t spectacular and this game was a mess all around. Amare should have thrived against such a poor defensive team in Toronto but he finished with just 19 points on seven-of-16 shooting. He had 10 rebounds but also an amazing nine turnovers. He looked lost for a bit, though he did have a pair of clutch buckets late. Wilson Chandler was the savior for the Knicks, going 10-for-18 from the field for 22 points with eight rebounds at the small forward spot.
Like Amare, Andrea Bargnani struggled, going just eight-of-21 from the field for 22 points. Reggie Evans had an odd statline: 33 minutes, 0 points, 16 rebounds. Offensively, the only impressive and efficient Raptor was Jarrett Jack, who had 16 points on seven-of-15 shooting and did nice job of attacking the rim. He had six assists, four boards and three steals as well.
97 points per 100 possessions for the Knicks, 92.1 points per 100 possessions for the Raptors. Ugly game. Larry Drew’s motion offense produced optimal results in its first game: 119 points per 100 possessions for the Hawks. Joe Johnson got his usual 22 points, seven assists and four boards, but he did it without having to go into isolation too often and stayed generally within 10 feet of the basket. Mike Bibby added 19 points and four triples in this game. O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay combined for just 30 points on 25 shots in this one and as Marc Gasol missed the season opener, Zaza Pachulia had 17 points on a frontline of Darrell Arthur and Hasheem Thabeet. On the bright side for Memphis, Mike Conley may have had the best game of his career with 23 points on nine-of-15 shooting to go along with eight assists and five rebounds.This game was all about Monta Ellis. The Rockets scored their behinds off for the second straight game, but they just couldn’t contain Ellis.
Ellis shot 18-of-24 from the field for 46 points with an unbelievable seven makes (on 12 attempts) from the mid-range. Ellis just couldn’t be contained, even when the Rockets put Courtney Lee in his jersey. I picked Ellis as my underdog candidate to win the scoring title and this game wasn’t such a bad start.
Stephen Curry added 25 points of his own with 11 assists and three three’s while playing remarkably good defense on Aaron Brooks, who had just 13 points on four-of-15 shooting. In his first game as a Warrior, center/power forward/scoring six-foot-nine guy David Lee had 17 points on six-of-11 shooting with 15 rebounds and six assists. He’ll look good in his this offense.
Of course, Lee can’t defend, and Luis Scola torched both he and Andris Biedrins, who fouled out, for 36 points on 14-of-24 shooting with 16 rebounds of his own. Scola hasn’t really improved, per se, so I struggle to find an award to give him if he can score this well for the rest of the year. Perhaps a spot on the all-NBA third team will do, though that isn’t likely. With Yao back, though, an all-star berth may be.
Kevin Martin had 28 points in this game but was cold from the field. He made up for it with a franchise record 17 free throws on as many attempts from the line. With Yao out, Chuck Hayes played 39 minutes at center and had the best game he will have this season. 16 points on eight-of-12 shooting with eight rebounds and six assists. Only in Golden State.
128.2 points per 100 possessions for the Warriors, who were supposed to slow it down with Don Nelson gone. If Ellis, Curry and Lee are playing like this, though, I don’t mind having them lead the league in pace again this year.The Clippers fought in this game, they really did. And they had a good chance to win this game at points, but couldn’t capitalize.
Portland did the dirty work. They got on the offensive glass, they tipped misses out to the perimeter and they defended when they needed to, forcing turnovers in key moments. The Blazers finished with 21 offensive rebounds and had 51 total boards compared to the Clippers’ 41. For the second straight night, they killed their opponent on the glass and made them pay with second chance opportunities.
Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon were fantastic, but they weren’t enough. Griffin was marvelous in his debut, going for 20 points on eight-of-14 shooting with 14 rebounds (nine offensive) and four assists, but he was also lost at times and allowed for Marcus Camby, who had 14 rebounds (seven offensive), to reach over him and tip the ball out to his teammates too often. Hard to knock him for much else, though. He got on the offensive boards himself, slammed home putbacks, scored when he had position, hit a jumper and made some nifty passes on the move and in the court. Gordon attacked the basket a lot in this game, getting nine shots at the rim (he made eight of them), while taking just four jumpshots. He finished with 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting with nine of his baskets being assisted on.
Brandon Roy was great for the Blazers again in this game, though his shot was off in the second half. Still, he finished with 22 points on seven-of-19 shooting with 10 rebounds to go along with it. LaMarcus Aldridge missed a few easy ones at the rim, but he had 19 points and 10 boards including the game-clinching three to demoralize the Clippers. Nicolas Batum is going to be fantastic this season. In this game, he was six-of-seven from the floor with three three’s, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. He is so fun to watch and is really turning into a complete player.
Portland’s dominance on the boards will be something to watch going forward.