Post Up: Durant Digs In
Plus the Spurs blow out Lob City and DWade delivers in Charlotte.
by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad
Fantastic finishes. The Knicks. Kevin Durant. Ahh, it’s nice to have basketball back, isn’t it? And someone needs to tell the Heat to stop being so damn compelling. It’s gonna make me look like a Miami apologist, when in reality, I couldn’t be less of one. (Sure, I picked them to win the title, but that’s brain not heart.) Then again, considering the Wizards outlook after two games it might not be the worst thing for you guys to start thinking I’m a Heat guy. Which you undoubtedly will when you see how many YouTube highlights come from Bron and Co. in this post. But I digress—there were some really, really good games last night, and some clunkers, too, so let’s hit it.
The first game of the night would have been the best of the night if not for Heat-Bobcats and Thunder-Grizz, as the Pacers outlasted the Raptors with Justin Bieber on hand (oh, no…). DeMar Derozan is a joy to watch play basketball—he scored 22 points including two huge threes down the stretch—but you can’t help feeling like he’ll finally break out in a non-Toronto uniform. He and Andrea Bargnani (21 points) kept the Raps in this one until the final minute. Danny Granger hit a clutch three with a little over 2 minutes to play after a Darren Collison slip-n-slide dish, then traded threes with Derozan to give Indiana a 83-75 lead. Granger scored 9 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. The final dagger came on a David West pick-and-pop with Collison, West cashing a wing jumper with 9 ticks left on the clock to seal the deal for the Pacers. All five Indiana starters scored in double figures, including 14 for West, who appears to be fitting in nicely so far with his new squad.
Charlotte nearly cracked the code—nearly made the rest of the NBA extremely happy by handing the Heat loss No. 1 on the season. But down the stretch, Miami was just too much for the ‘Cats. Kemba Walker scored 14 points off the bench, and he and Byron Mullens (of all people) led a second-half surge for Charlotte, but Paul Silas yanked both off the court and Miami crept back to within striking distance. A Dwyane Wade twisting layup tied the score at 72 with ten minutes to play, and while Gerald Henderson did his best to keep the Bobcats in it—21 points, including a three to give CHA a 3-point lead with under 15 seconds to play—the Heat simply did what the Heat do. A short video summary, brought to you by the Big 3:
Goodnight, Charlotte. And Hello, Cam Newton.
The only thing worse than the Wizards’ effort last night was Atlanta’s in-house DJ at Philips Arena. After sounding off on Twitter about his lack of post touches, Andray Blatche went right back to bricking jumpers. He finished his night with 4 points on 2-of-13 shooting and 4 rebounds in 27 minutes. Dude ought to delete his Twitter account altogether after that “performance.” Nick Young hit his first five shots off the bench and finished with a team-high 21 (and 4 assists—WOW?!), while John Wall racked up 20 and 6 assists (but 6 turnovers, too). Atlanta wore down Washington with a balanced attack and good defense. Six ATL players hit double digits, including 18 from Joe Johnson, 15/10 for Josh Smith (plus one nice chase down block on JWall) and 11/10 for Al Horford. This game was never close. Here’s hoping Chris Singleton can get Rashard Lewis’ minutes going forward for the Wiz. Singleton works hard at both ends, and is just about the only guy matching Wall’s heart these days. Speaking of which, this play pretty much sums up the Wiz: Wall hustles downcourt for a big-time block (admittedly, after his own turnover), and not one teammate follows the play, leading to an easy ATL follow lay-in. Lastly, who made up this schedule for the Hawks? Somehow they ended up with Nets-Wizards-Nets for their first three games. Let’s hold off on applauding Atlanta until they go through a five-game stretch in the first week of January that includes two games each against Miami and Chicago.
I won’t front. This game wasn’t on the top of my priority list. But scan the box score and you’ll find some really weird stuff. For one, 10 Cavs players played at least 20 minutes, and every one of the five guys off the bench played more minutes than any starter. Plus, Cleveland shot a staggering 57 percent from the field and 58 percent (7-12) from three-point range. No player on either team finished with more than 7 rebounds. Aside from stat quirks, the most interesting thing about this game was obviously the rookie PG matchup of No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving and No. 8 pick Brandon Knight. When these two hooked up in the pre-season, the results were, frankly, a bit lame. But both came up big last night—Kyrie led his team to the win with 14 points and 7 assists, while BK scored 23 points on 10-13 shooting (3 threes) and added 6 assists. Plus, they had just 5 turnovers combined, and Knight scored one particular layup despite Antawn Jamison’s attempts to strangle him by the throat.
It’s been a rough, rough start for Boston, now 0-3. Luckily, the scheduling gods give them a break over the next four games: Detroit, Washington, Washington, New Jersey. And 3 of those 4 are at home. As for last night, let’s get this out of the way right now: Paul Pierce and Eric Gordon did not play. In related news, neither did most of the Celtics roster, depending on your definition of “playing.” New Orleans went up 48-39 by halftime, and never looked back. Kevin Garnett scored just 8 points, while Ray Allen led the C’s with 15 and Rajon Rondo finished with 13 points and 6 assists in 34 minutes. Give the Hornets credit—they turned the ball over just 9 times (and three of those were inexplicably from Emeka Okafor) and held Boston to 38 percent shooting. Jarret Jack led all scorers with 21, to go with 9 assists. When will Boston stop the bleeding?
The word “wild” was the only way to describe the playoff series these two played a few months ago. Last night in the Grizzlies’ home opener, it was like they never missed a beat. Mike Conley left the game with an apparent ankle injury less than a minute into the game, forcing backup point guard Jeremy Pargo into increased minutes. He made the most of it, finishing with 15 points and 7 dimes. The story of the game, though, was Kevin Durant. After starting just 1-of-7 from the field, Durant made nine of his next 10 shots, finishing 10-17 for 32 points, plus 8 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks. Memphis looked shaky to start, too, missing 12 straight shots to open the game and allowing OKC to build an early advantage. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Thunder was up 72-70. And that’s when things got goofy—in a good way. Memphis battled back, with Randolph giving the Grizz a 76-75 lead on a jumper with 9:40 to play, before OKC began raining three-pointers. Durant, James Harden (20 points) and Daequan Cook (9 points) all hit treys during a 14-1 run. The Grizzlies, who shot just 2-16 on 3-pointers, got back to within two when Rudy Gay hit a clutch pull-up jumper with just under a minute to play, but KD answered, and the Thunder withstood a silly turnover and a Z-Bo three-pointer to hold on for the big win. All this, despite a ghastly shooting performance from Russell Westbrook: 0-13 from the field, 4 points (if reports are to be believed, it could have been a result of an altercation with Durant during a second-quarter timeout). Randolph led the way for Memphis with 24 and 12, and the Grizz got double-doubles from Gay (19/12 + a flush on Kendrick Perkins) and Marc Gasol (16/12). Durant, for his part, is now averaging 31.7 PPG. The Thunder play the Mavs in two of their next three.
Manu Ginobili scored the first 9 points of the game for the Spurs, and finished with 24 for the night, as San Antonio reminded the new kid on the block it won’t be easy in the West. The Spurs have won 17 straight home games against the Clippers—yowzah! DeJuan Blair scored 20 points on 10-15 shooting and Richard Jefferson added 19, and the Spurs made all 15 of their free throws (while the Clippers shot 76 percent from the line). Blake Griffin did his thing with 28 points and 9 rebounds in 34 minutes and DeAndre Jordan provided his nightly highlight over Tim Duncan, but Chris Paul was held to 3-10 shooting (10 points), and Mo Williams to 4-11 (12 points) as L.A. couldn’t get anything going against a stingy San Antonio D. The Spurs were up by at least 19 for the entire fourth quarter. Call them boring, call them old, call them unsexy—all true, by the way—but the Spurs are still the Spurs. Don’t sleep.
The Jazz were within two points at 42-40 mid-second quarter, before Denver woke up and went on a ridiculous run to take a 63-46 halftime advantage. The Nuggets might be the deepest team in the NBA—they can go 10-deep (sorry, Cleveland, yours doesn’t count). And that’s not even counting rookie Kenneth Faried, who could find his way into the rotation down the road. Last night, it was prized free agent Nene who led the way with 25 points (10-13 FGs), 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 1 facial for Paul Millsap. Andre Miller came in off the bench and dropped 12 dimes, spreading the ball around and leading to six Nuggs scoring in double figures. For the Jazz, it’s still a work in progress, but rookie Alec Burks got some garbage time burn and looked good, scoring 15 points in 10 minutes. Also, Jamaal Tinsley was in uniform, so there’s that.
If you had Ronnie Price as the Suns’ leading scorer last night in your “Who’s going to lead the Suns in scoring tonight?” pool, I have two comments for you: 1) You have a gambling problem, 2) Take me to Vegas with you. Yes, Ronnie Price, folks. His 16 points in 31 (31!) minutes led Phoenix, and the only other Suns to score in double figures were Grant Hill and Hakim Warrick, who had 14 apiece. Channing Frye had 8 boards in 8 minutes to start the game, then played just 5 more minutes the rest of the way, while Steve Nash had a rough night is in a rough spot. His line last night was very un-Nash-like, with 4 points on 2-11 shooting, just 1 assist and 6 turnovers. (Show some mercy and trade Nash, please Phoenix.) 2-11 was also the number PHX shot from 3-point range. The Sixers, on the other hand, shot 42 percent from deep and got 15 points each from Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young. Philly went on a 19-0 run to start the third quarter, and that pretty much wrapped things up.
To recap, the Warriors have now beaten the Bulls and the Knicks. I know Golden State’s known for having a nice home court advantage at Oracle Arena, but color me impressed. And yeah, I get it, they play an unusual style, on the West coast, and…wait, no, the Warriors stink! And Steph Curry didn’t even play! Monta Ellis had 22 points and 8 dimes, and Brandon Rush scored 19 as the W’s pulled away in the fourth quarter. New York’s got point guard issues, perhaps worse than we could have ever imagined. Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby combined for 8 points on 4-of-16 shooting in 48 total minutes between them. Jeremy Lin…Jeremy Lin…Jeremy Lin…Jeremy Lin…
Line of the Night: LeBron James: 35 Pts, 6 Reb, 7 Ast, 3 Stl, 2 Blk. As ESPN.com’s Adam Reisinger points out, that’s LeBron’s 71st career game with 35+ pts, 6+ reb, 6+ ast. “Next most among active players? Kobe with 44.”
Moment of the Night: Since you already saw DWade’s game-winner, how about a highlight from a game you probably didn’t watch, involving two players you otherwise would never talk about? Perfect. Lou Amundson, meet James Johnson. And his junk.
“Using Your Head” of the Night: Gerald Henderson finally figures out how to stop LeBron.
Tonight: The first Thursday night of the NBA season brings a pair of primetime matchups on TNT you don’t want to miss—first, a Western Conference Finals rematch as the Thunder host Dallas, followed by Knicks at Lakers. There are four other games on tap, too, including a potentially awkward Nets-Magic game in Orlando.