Oklahoma City Thunder 106, Chicago Bulls 95
I hate to put a damper on a fun game, but we need to talk about Derrick Rose. Sure, he had some breathtaking plays, making a great Thunder defense look silly at times. And sure, he's not the reason the Bulls lost.
But he also took 31 shots, making just 12. Yup, 31 shots. Worse, Rose shot just four free throws, and he also had his shot blocked five times. Add it all up, and over 52 percent of the Bulls' possessions with Rose on the floor ended with Rose. That's beyond obscene.
Then again, it's kind of wrong to say Rose had a bad game. The truth is that the Bulls are thin on offensive options with Carlos Boozer injured. Joakim Noah is an unbelievably skilled player that can set up his teammates with good screens and high-post passing, but he's not going to create his own shot much. Taj Gibson had a good game, but he's going to get most of his points on rebounds and transition scores. Luol Deng looked decent at times, but he's a finisher that lacks three-point range, not a creator. Who else is supposed to end those possessions if Rose doesn't?
So we must consider context here. It isn't enough to say Rose had a bad game and conclude that he's a bad player. But for a guy who has openly declared he can be the MVP, this wasn't a good start. The best point guards in this league change speeds effectively and are able to make life easier on themselves by setting up plays or by creating contact when driving. Right now, Rose can't do either of those things. Until he learns, his reputation will somewhat exceed reality. Chicago scored just 96 points per 100 possessions, and that's on Rose's inability to be efficient down the stretch more than anything.
As for Oklahoma City, their athleticism proved to be too much for the Bulls down the stretch. There were so many home games last year where the Thunder let teams hang around for a while, then pulled away late because they never stopped running off missed shots. That's exactly what happened tonight. Russell Westbrook was huge with 28 points and 13 rebounds, completely dominating Rose down the stretch. Kevin Durant was fine with 30 points on 24 shots, and Jeff Green pitched in with an awkward 21. Thabo Sefolosha had just one point, but he had a couple huge defensive plays late to seal the game. Bet Chicago wishes they still had him.
Play of the game: This is what happens when you have a point guard who can rebound.
From the blogs: Blog a Bull writes that it's not surprising to see the Bulls struggle to score down the stretch, and their offensive performance through three and a half quarters is encouraging.
Miami Heat 97, Philadelphia 76ers 87
The Heat's offense still isn't great. Philadelphia was a terrible defensive team last year, and the Heat still only scored 102.1 points per 100 possessions. Dwyane Wade picked it up big time with 30 points on 20 shots, including a backdoor dunk to start the game, but the flip side was that LeBron James struggled with nine turnovers.
That said, Miami won this game with its defense. For all the talk of how Miami would work offensively, their defensive potential is off the charts against anyone who lacks a big post threat. Wade and James are a terror in the passing lanes, and they're also quick enough to double-team and then rotate back to their man quickly. It's going to be pretty much impossible for anyone to drive-and-kick on these guys. Philadelphia tried, but Miami was there in the passing lanes, forcing 19 turnovers.
Evan Turner had a really good game for Philadelphia, shaking off early nerves to drop 16/7/4 on 10 shots. He even had a nice crossover move that made Wade look silly. I'm not sure if Turner will ever be a star, but you have to love how he competes and his ability to change speeds. He wasn't afraid to guard Wade or James, and soon, he'll develop the smarts to actually do it.
James Jones caught fire for the Heat, dropping 20 points on 6-9 three-point shooting. Thus far this season, he's taken only one two-point shot. That seems appropriate.
Play of the game: See, Evan Turner can be really flippin' quick.
From the blogs: Peninsula is Mightier writes that this was the first time the Heat saw Dwyane Wade in full flght, while Liberty Ballers writes that, despite the loss, the 76ers fought hard, which is more than you could say last season.
Look, Blake Griffin is awesome, Eric Gordon can play and Baron Davis is talented. But they need guidance and a real offensive system if they want to get the most out of each other. Vinny Del Negro's coaching style is to hope they defend, rebound and then run up the floor hoping for a shot. If that fails? He's stumped. How do you not design some sort of set to try to get Griffin the ball when the Blazers are pulling away?
Portland once again was very impressive. Brandon Roy went off in the second quarter, and their zone was enough to stifle the Clippers in the fourth quarter. Back-to-backs are less debilitating for them because they're so deep.
Play of the game: This was about as fitting a way for Blake Griffin's career to get started as you could have scripted.
I found myself watching a lot of this one because I was impressed by New Orleans' dedication to pushing the ball. One of their issues in the past was that nobody really committed to getting up the court. Part of the problem was Chris Paul's disinclination for running, but one of the other issues was that their wing players were so slow. That's not true anymore with Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli and Marcus Thornton, so suddenly Paul had reason to attack. The end result was a ton of hoops on the secondary break.
Milwaukee played fine, though. Brandon Jennings had an excellent game for Milwaukee, and so did newcomers Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette. Andrew Bogut put up 15 points and 15 rebounds, but he looked tentative trying attack the Hornets in the post. I'm still worried about his injuries and how they'll affect his game going forward. John Salmons, on the other hand, gave them five points on eight shots. He always manages to tease you for a stretch, then go back into the tank.
Tonight was a good reminder that it was two things that caused Cleveland to win 60 games in 2008 and 2009: defense, and LeBron James. One of those things is gone, but the other is still there. The Cavaliers' defense down the stretch was outstanding, as they deflected a ton of passes and got Boston out of their rhythm. Don't be surprised to see them in the top half of the league there. Anderson Varejao is still outstanding on that end, and Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker can shut you down.
Turnovers did Boston in tonight, which happens to them often. They coughed it up on 20 percent of their possessions last night, and it was a team effort -- four different guys had at least three turnovers. Also, they were tired from last night. Can't blame them too much.
J.J. Hickson played 30 minutes and scored 21 points on 8-11 shooting. Antawn Jamison played 21 minutes and scored four points on 2-6 shooting. Guess which player was the one complaining about taking a bench role before the game?
From the blogs: Celtics Blog writes that there's no need to panic this early in the season.
Golden State Warriors 132, Houston Rockets 128
Monta Ellis has put up a lot of big scoring games, though he's only got to 46 one other time. But this time, Ellis actually got his points without killing the team's flow. He hit a bunch of tough shots early that he won't usually hit, but he attacked the basket, shared the ball and didn't stunt others. Stephen Curry had 25 and 11, and the David Lee-Andris Biedrins front line got the job done on the glass.
Houston was tired from having to play the Lakers the night before, so I wouldn't fret if I was a Rockets fan. Luis Scola got whatever he wanted inside, and down the stretch, they just ran out of gas. They did shoot too many jumpers though, missing 20 of their 24 shots from outside of 16 feet.
Play of the Game: Do you want to see Monta Ellis highlights dubbed over a boring post-game interview. OF COURSE YOU DO.
From the blogs: Golden State of Mind writes that, for one night, the fears many fans had about the team were overcome, while The Dream Shake writes that the Rockets hurt themselves with odd player rotations.
Denver Nuggets 110, Utah Jazz 88
I hate to stress it again, but it takes time for new pieces to fit. Al Jefferson is clearly going to be a work in progress for the Jazz. He looked like he wasn't sure where he should be offensively, and he was a step slow all night rotating to cover the rim. Jefferson is the antithesis of a Jerry Sloan player, so expecting them to be a perfect fit right away would have been misleading. As long as his struggles continue, the rest of the team will struggle to play off him.
Carmelo Anthony played fine, and Arron Afflalo played well, but I think this loss was really more about Utah than Denver. On the bright side, Gordon Hayward looks like a player, and Jeremy Evans is intriguing.
Sacramento Kings 117, Minnesota Timberwolves 116
Two forgotten guys were big for the Kings tonight. Carl Landry pushed Minnesota's front line around all night, dropping 22 and 11, and Francisco Garcia snuck open for a couple corner threes and layups, finishing with 22 himself. Both guys are key players this year -- Landry because of his inside/outside game when paired with DeMarcus Cousins, and Garcia because he's big, good enough to handle the ball and versatile enough to play off Tyreke Evans. That both excelled with Evans out due to suspension is a good sign.
Luke Ridnour had 20 for Minnesota, which continues to inexplicably hate Kevin Love. Love played just 24 minutes tonight, and was supplanted by Anthony Tolliver down the stretch. Did he sleep with one of Kurt Rambis' family members?
From the blogs: Canis Hoopus writes that it doesn't look like Kurt Rambis can use all the ingredients David Kahn gave him.
Atlanta Hawks 119, Memphis Grizzlies 104
So much for that isolation-centric Hawks' offense, at least for one night. Six different players scored in double figures, including Zaza Pachulia, who had 17 on seven shots. Then again, it's the Grizzlies, a terrible defensive team missing Marc Gasol. Hasheem Thabeet looked particularly inept in the 19 minutes he played.
From the blogs: Peachtree Hoops writes that the new-look offense looked great last night,
Dallas Mavericks 101, Charlotte Bobcats 86
Charlotte's offense was pathetic to start the game, then their defense fell off when they overcompensated later on. It didn't look like they were doing anything wrong early on. They just couldn't knock down the shots. When you look at that starting lineup, you understand why.
San Antonio Spurs 122, Indiana Pacers 109
I missed this one, with so many great games going on at the same time, but Roy Hibbert had 28 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes against Tim Duncan. Damn. Keep your eye on Hibbert in the Most Improved race.
From the blogs: Indy Cornrows writes that the Pacers never had a chance.
New York Knicks 98, Toronto Raptors 93
I didn't tune into this one much, but when I did, it was pretty ugly. I expected Toronto to be pretty ugly, but I figured the Knicks might be interesting. Save for a couple nice plays from Amare Stoudemire down the stretch, they weren't. Maybe they need more time with each other.
New Jersey Nets 101, Detroit Pistons 98
The Pistons led this one for most of the game, but the Nets rallied and eventually pulled away in the final minute. Because it's the Nets and the Pistons, that's all we'll say about this game.
From the blogs: Detroit Bad Boys is encouraged by the first 46 minutes of the game, enough to say that they will win more than 30 games this year.