Russell Westbrook delivered an electrifying 38-point performance in the Oklahoma City Thunder's first game without Kevin Durant, but the Portland Trail Blazers used a monster fourth quarter to pull away from a short-handed Thunder squad and win 106-89.
Heading into the season, attention was on Westbrook to see how he would play without Durant at his side. After one game, Westbrook appears to be up for the challenge, but his superhuman efforts may not be enough in the early part of the year due to Oklahoma City's litany of injuries.
In addition to Durant, Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb and Mitch McGary all sat out against Portland. It didn't matter at the start, with the perpetually aggressive Westbrook slicing and dicing the Blazers' defense. Westbrook also locked down Damian Lillard early, holding the Blazers' star point guard to zero first-half points.
Westbrook finished the first half with 26 points and five assists, and he capped off the masterful half with a monster dunk:
Westbrook's mastery continued into the second half, and his 36 points entering the fourth quarter had the Thunder up two. But when Westbrook went to the bench in the fourth, the wheels began to come off and he wasn't able to stop the bleeding when he returned to the court. With little left in the tank and the Blazers' defense locking down on him, Westbrook only had two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the final frame.
On the other end of the court, Portland caught fire from three after struggling for much of the game. The Blazers shot 6-of-7 from three in the fourth quarter, and LaMarcus Aldridge also helped put the game away with an alley-oop slam off a feed from Nicolas Batum, who helped shut down Westbrook late:
Westbrook and the Thunder have no time to rest with the Los Angeles Clippers on the docket Thursday. Westbrook had his way with the Clippers during last year's postseason, and he certainly may have his way with them again. However, it's tough to imagine Oklahoma City going into Staples Center on the second night of a back-to-back and beating Los Angeles, no matter what Westbrook does.
That unfortunately could be a theme for the Thunder until Durant returns, unless Westbrook's supporting cast really steps up. Hopefully it's not the case, because it would be nice to appreciate the talent Westbrook is while Oklahoma City is winning games.
3 other things we learned
The Bulls are really good and the Knicks are a work in progress: With Derrick Rose back and improved depth on the roster, the Bulls entered the season with high expectations. After a sluggish start, Chicago showed why those expectations were so high, blowing the doors off New York at Madison Square Garden, 104-80. Rose played only 21 minutes in the blowout, scoring 13 points and dishing out five assists. The stars of the show were Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, who combined for 43 points and 19 boards. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony might be wondering if he could have a free agency redo, because the Knicks were a mess on both ends of the floor. Anthony scored just 14 points despite Bulls defensive ace Jimmy Butler sitting out with a thumb injury, and it's clear incorporating the triangle offense is a major work in progress.
Rajon Rondo is back and looks as good as ever: Rondo has gone through his fair share of adversity the past few years, whether it's injuries or dealing with countless trade rumors. The mercurial point guard broke his hand prior to training camp this season and he was initially expected to miss the start of the year. But his rehab progressed quickly, and there he was in the starting lineup for the Celtics against Brooklyn. What followed was a vintage Rondo dissection, as he navigated Boston to a surprising 121-105 beatdown. He flirted with a triple-double, recording 13 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. Not only was he in prime form on the court, but he was also in fine form with the media.
Toronto Chris Bosh may have taken up residency in Miami: Back in the day, Bosh put up 20 and 10 like it was nothing. In fact, he averaged at least 22 and 10 three times in Toronto. When Bosh joined LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami, he knew he was going to sacrifice some of his personal numbers in order to contend for a title. That worked out pretty nicely, although Bosh's contributions to the Heat weren't always fully appreciated. When James chose to return home to Cleveland, Bosh had a prime opportunity to join another "superteam" in Houston. Instead, Bosh decided to stick around in Miami, where he could once again be "The Man." If there were any doubts he could carry that type of load, those were quelled with a 26-point, 15-rebound effort in a 107-95 win over Washington. Whether another 20/10 season is in the cards remains to be seen, but the Heat big man looks primed for a big season.
Play of the Night
James Ennis might not be a household name, but a lot more people are sure to know him now after this posterization of Rasual Butler. Poor Butler might have to think about retirement after that one.
4 fun things
The Hornets are officially back in Charlotte, and it was quite the opening night. There were tuxedo t-shirts, monster dunks and clutch Kemba Walker jumpers to cap off a huge comeback from down 24 points against Milwaukee.
Blowing a 24-point lead is never fun, but Bucks fans can take some solace in Jabari Parker slams and Giannis Antetokounmpo swats.
The Knicks may have been a dumpster fire, but Amar'e Stoudemire threw down a dunk like old times and shook it off with Taylor Swift.
Andre Drummond took out some anger on the rim and Timofey Mozgov.
This Kobe Bryant face accurately summed up the night for the Lakers.
Hornets 108, Bucks 106 (OT) (At The Hive recap | Brew Hoop recap)
Pacers 103, 76ers 91 (Indy Cornrows recap | Liberty Ballers recap)
Celtics 121, Nets 105 (CelticsBlog recap | NetsDaily recap)
Heat 107, Wizards 95 (Hot Hot Hoops recap | Bullets Forever recap)
Raptors 109, Hawks 102 (Raptors HQ recap | Peachtree Hoops recap)
Grizzlies 105, Timberwolves 101 (Grizzly Bear Blues recap | Canis Hoopus recap)
Bulls 104, Knicks 80 (Blog a Bull recap | Posting and Toasting recap)
Rockets 104, Jazz 93 (The Dream Shake recap | SLC Dunk recap)
Nuggets 89, Pistons 79 (Denver Stiffs recap | Detroit Bad Boys)
Suns 119, Lakers 99 (Bright Side Of The Sun recap | Silver Screen and Roll recap)
Warriors 95, Kings 77 (Golden State Of Mind recap | Sactown Royalty recap)
Trail Blazers 106, Thunder 89 (Blazer's Edge recap | Welcome to Loud City recap)