Post Up: Chris Who?
Plus Jimmer, Kemba, Ricky, DWill and Kyrie make their NBA debuts.
by Abe Schwadron | Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
Christmas Day was fun, but there’s something special about tracking a half-dozen NBA games at once. That’s what we got Monday night, with a 12-pack of games on the schedule. And even if the early games looked like clunkers on paper, we got the first glimpses of rookies we’ll be talking about all year—from Kemba to Kyrie—and good finishes to boot. I won’t lie, I was locked in to Wizards-Nets for the first couple hours of the night (sad, I know) but after watching the Wiz blow a 20+ point lead, you may not have to worry about me being distracted much longer. Anyway, we’ve got a long list of games to run through, so let’s get to it.
Brandon Jennings led all scorers in this one with 22 (and at one point, he was happy), but down the stretch Paul Silas put DJ Augustin and Kemba Walker on the court together, and the two-headed point guard monster “lineup” paid dividends. Augustin (19 points) put the Bobcats up one on a driving layup with just over 30 seconds to play, then Walker drained a pair of clutch free throws to ice the game. King Kemba shot just 3-of-10 in his NBA debut, but finished with 13 points and one highlight that even made Mike crack a smile. Peep what Coach Silas said about Walker in the post-game: “That’s one thing about Kemba Walker—he ain’t gonna give up at all. He stepped up and made two big free throws and it won the game. It was just phenomenal what he did for this ballclub at such a young age having never played professional basketball. He’s got it.”
Still, Charlotte snuck past Milwaukee despite a big man rotation of DJ White (who started, somehow), DeSagana Diop, Bismack Biyombo and Byron Mullens. Yeah, that ain’t gonna fly for long. As for the Bucks, Stephen Jackson had as many personal fouls as he did points, with 6, and fellow starter Ersan Ilyasova scored just 2 points in 27 minutes. In the feel-good department, Shaun Livingston went for 14 points and 6 assists, and even went backboard-slapping, which was nice to see, considering all that dude’s been through.
Orlando is the early favorite for “most consistently boring game recap,” so here goes: Dwight Howard returned to Dwight Howard-like form after a disappointing outing on Christmas Day, going for 21 points (9-15 FG), 7 boards, 3 assists and 3 blocks, and the Magic shot 53 percent as a team, coasting to their first win of the season against Houston. Hedo Turkoglu had 23 and JJ Redick scored 20 (each had 3 threes), while the Rockets thought it was a good idea to go with Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill in the starting lineup. The only redeeming Rockets were Luis Scola, who scored 19, and Kyle Lowry, who made his fantasy owners happy with 20 points and 12 assists.
Tough night for Kyrie Irving. In his first professional game, the No. 1 pick shot 2-of-12 and had 6 points (3 came on a meaningless trey in the final minute of the game). He finished with 7 assists and just one turnover in 26 minutes, but didn’t look comfortable. The rest of the Cavs didn’t do much to help out the rook, shooting 6-20 from three-point range, while allowing the Raptors to shoot better than 53 percent from the field. Alonzo Gee took a scary spill, but he looked to be okay afterward. Seven Toronto players scored in double figures, led by 15 from DeMar Derozan and Jose Calderon, who also had 11 assists. Could this have been a matchup of the two worst teams in the East? Yes.
This was an ugly one. New Pacer David West shot just 3-12 in 31 minutes, but finished with a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds), as did Roy Hibbert (16 and 14), and Indiana beat Detroit. The Pistons were led by 17 points apiece from Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey, and not much else. Detroit shot an atrocious 36 percent from the field (27-75). Then again, the Pacers shot 37 percent. More fun things from this game: Ben Wallace still gets booed in Indiana, George Hill (4 points, 4 assists) is already a hometown fan favorite and Frank Vogel won his first game without the word “interim” in front of his name.
Oh boy. Heck of start for my Wiz, eh? The notes I jotted down for this game: “ft’s, hump, blatches tweet.” Let’s take those one at a time. First, the Wizards shot 21-34 from the charity stripe, good for 62 percent. John Wall missed 6 free throws on his own, which, you’ll notice, was literally the difference in the game. (Side note: maybe it’s my DC bias, but Wall doesn’t get nearly enough respect from the refs. He attacked the rim relentlessly last night, and shot just 13 free throws.) Kris Humphries put up 21 and 16. That’s worth repeating: Kris Humphries put up 21 and 16. And lastly, Andray Blatche. It won’t take long for anyone who reads this blog to figure out my feelings on Dray, and through one game, he’s done nothing to change those feelings. Especially after jacking up 13 shots, mostly from the outside, and then complaining via Twitter and to the local media that he played poorly for reasons outside his control.
The Wizards held a 21-point lead in the first half, and Nick Young scored 12 points in 8 minutes before halftime. But Young tweaked his ankle when Blatche (surprise) fell on his leg, and could only play 10 second-half minutes. He finished with 16, and was by far Washington’s most effective offensive option. Deron Williams scored 23 for New Jersey, plus 8 assists. And yes, the AP‘s lede went there: “Maybe Washington Wizards fans were keeping up with the Kardashians.” Expect that garbage to follow the Nets around until their play merits more serious attention. For his part, Avery Johnson doesn’t get it: “I’m trying to figure out: What did he do? I’m serious. It may be because I don’t follow reality TV—I don’t know all the ins and outs of it.”
Ricky Rubio is officially appointment television. I hate upstaging OKC, since Kevin Durant scored 33 and Russell Westbrook added 28 of his own en route to the Thunder’s second win. But Rubio was everything we’ve been hearing about, dropping dime passes left and right, first to Anthony Randolph, then to fellow rookie Derrick Williams. Okay, so six assists (and six points, five rebounds) in 26 minutes might not make him a Hall of Famer, but there’s no denying he was fun to watch, and Minnesota’s Rubio-Barea-Love-Beasley-Williams lineup is one of the most entertaining in the NBA right now. That is, if B-Easy can get a wee bit better in terms of shot selection—he heaved as many shots (27) as the rest of the T-Wolves starters did, combined. Kevin Love’s 22, 12 and 5 should be should be noted, too, before we get to the winners…
Oklahoma City leaned heavy on KD, Russ and James Harden (16 points in 30 minutes) and shot 29-31 from the free throw line as a team. Durant scored six straight points to end the third quarter, and Westbrook was aggressive in the fourth, taking it to Rubio and JJ Barea (and poor Luke Ridnour), who stood no chance on the defensive end. Kendrick Perkins came up big on a Beasley drive with less than 10 seconds to play, and the Thunder moved to 2-0. The T-Wolves might not even be a playoff team, but it was a gritty road win for OKC.
Is it panic time in Big D, or are Miami and Denver just really, really good? Nuggets guard Ty Lawson scored 21 points…in the first half. That’s more than he scored in any single game during his summer Euroleague stint, where his season-high was 14. Lawson finished with 27, to go with 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Denver went on a 20-0 run in the second quarter, and put this one away early.
It was so bad for Dallas, reserve big man Sean Williams blew chunks on the bench. No seriously, he did.
Last year, the Grizz took out the top-seeded Spurs in one of the more memorable first-round Playoff series. Last night, the Spurs exacted a hint of revenge, albeit it with much less at stake. Then again, with a condensed season that will surely hit veteran teams harder than young legs, it was big for San Antonio to look so strong out of the gate. Manu Ginobili scored 24 points and filled up the rest of the stat sheet with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block as the Spurs controlled this one in the second half, despite being outshot 46 percent to 40 from the field.
Memphis’s starting lineup is as advertised—Mike Conley (11), Marc Gasol (13), Rudy Gay (19) and Zach Randolph (10) scored in double figures, and Tony Allen did his thing on defense. But the Grizzlies are thin as can be. Lionel Hollins got only minimal contributions from OJ Mayo and Sam Young, and almost nothing from the four other guys he tried. Depth will be the end of the Grizzlies unless someone emerges or they can make a move. Simple as that.
Happy Birthday, Eric Gordon. A day after EG turned 23 years old, he turned in an “eff you LA” performance against the Suns, capped off by a 20-footer with 4.2 seconds remaining to give the Hornets their first win in the post-Chris Paul era. Gordon scored 20 points for New Orleans, provided the clutch fireworks when called on, and did it all like he’d done it before. A Star is Born? Was he already? Does playing in New Orleans mean you can’t really be a star? Help! With Jarret Jack serving a suspension, Marco Belinelli got the start at the other guard spot, but Greivis Vasquez essentially played the PG minutes, and looked like a shrewd pick-up for the Hornets. New Orleans might be a fringe playoff team, but they’re versatile and have depth. Also, backup point guard Squeaky Johnson might have delivered the post-game tweet of the night.
Steve Nash delivered a classic 14-point, 12-assist night, while Phoenix got a huge boost off the bench from the less-heralded, more Sideshow Bob-looking Lopez twin, Robin, who put up 21 and 7 in 27 minutes. He outplayed new addition Shannon Brown, who shot just 1-8 (2 points) in 20 minutes.
Laker haters, eat your heart out. L.A. sits at 0-2 after losing a seemingly impossible-to-lose game at Sacramento. The Lakers haven’t started 0-3 since 1978. They get Utah tonight. Think Kobe is angry? Well, he scored 29 in the loss to the Kings (plus 6 dimes and 5 boards), while the rest of the Lake Show didn’t show. Metta World Peace scored 19 and Pau Gasol had 15, but the Lakers shot 1-for-16 from 3-point land, and trailed basically the whole way in this one, as Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans teamed up for 47 from the Kings backcourt. The Sac-Town crowd delighted with “Beat L.A.” chants late in the second half, while The Jimmer played 26 minutes and scored 6 points, despite not attempting even one trey ball. And damn, those black Kings jerseys are fire. And Gavin Maloof is extra excited about these things.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 25 points, and Gerald Wallace had 21 and 9, as the Blazers held off a late surge for the Sixers. Portland went up 95-80 late before Lou Williams scored 10 straight points for Philly to help bring the Sixers within three with 16 seconds left. It was too little too late for Philadelphia, who opened the game missing 11 of its first 16 shots. Williams scored 25 off the bench, and Andre Iguodala put up 22 and 8 in 40 minutes. The performance of the game, though, came from an unlikely name, as Sixers center Spencer Hawes flirted with a triple-double (10/13/9).
Portland looked strong despite losing some key pieces, and got 29 minutes from the oft-injured Marcus Camby. Oh, and Jamal Crawford (12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals in 22 minutes) is so perfect in Portland. Those fans will love him.
Stephen Curry’s ankle woes just won’t go away. He led Golden State to an impressive victory—and the first for Mark Jackson as an NBA head coach—but rolled his ankle yet again in the waning moments of the game. Good thing he got in his work early: 21 points, 7 boards, 10 assists, 6 steals in 37 minutes. Monta Ellis added 26 and David Lee chipped in 22 as the Warriors jumped out to a big early lead on the MVP and the Bulls, then hung on for dear life. Luol Deng led the way for Chicago with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but Derrick Rose struggled to a 13-8-5 line, and shot just 4-of-17 from the floor.
Line of the Night: Spencer Hawes’ 10 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists. I’m sorry, but any time Spencer friggin’ Hawes is 1 assist shy of a triple-double, it’s worthy of this award. Can you imagine the reaction if he’d dropped that last dime? Might Twitter have exploded, along with Nate McMillan’s head?
Moment of the Night: Eric Gordon, FTW. It was against the Suns, but it was for the Clippers.
Tonight: TNT has Celtics-Heat and Jazz-Lakers for its first doubleheader of the season, and we get Rubio vs. Jennings in Milwaukee at 8:30. Plus, Hawks-Nets and the Kings in Rip City against the Blazers.