Post Up: Westbrook Has Arrived
Russell Westbrook’s return and Kevin Love’s red-hot Wolves headline Sunday’s games.
by Jay Wallis | @jaywallis11
Pistons 87, Celtics 77
Brandon Jennings made his Pistons debut and looked fairly comfortable, contributing 14 points and 4 assists on 5-of-12 shooting from the field. The Pistons jumped out to a 45-35 lead by halftime, utilizing their frontcourt’s clear advantage on both sides of the court. Even though there are plenty of skeptics, Josh Smith seems to be finding his role alongside Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. In the third quarter, Jordan Crawford (13 points) led a 24-9 Boston run, capped off by a Avery Bradley 3-pointer. However, Detroit quickly bounced back with a 10-0 run and eventually pulled this one out. Without Rajon Rondo—or any veteran for that matter—leading Boston in crunch time, this winless team is going to struggle closing out games. Kelly Olynyk (team-high 15 points, 8 rebounds, 6-of-11 from the field) put together his first solid performance as he looked much more like preseason Kelly Olynyk. The Pistons big Big 3 (Smith, Monroe, Drummond) finished with 15 points a piece and 29 total rebounds. Smith and Drummond also contributed two steals and two blocks each. When they are running on all cylinders, as they were Sunday night, they become a commanding force difficult to contain or score against.
Heat 103, Wizards 93
The Heat’s Big 3 took the game into their own hands and continued extending this lead all the way to 23 points in the third quarter. Without a low-post defensive presence, the winless Wizards had no chance against the reigning champs. By halftime, the Heat had 19 assists on 23 field goals, moving the ball around with ease. LeBron James (14 points in the first quarter), Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to shoot 25-for-41 for 69 points. Marcin Gortat (15 points, 11 rebounds) might bring some nice offense, but the team clearly misses Emeka Okafor’s defensive presence, as Washington has given up at least 100 points in all three of their contests this year. And with John Wall (11 points, 9 assists, 5 turnovers, 4-of-12 shooting from the field) continuing to settle for contested long twos and Bradley Beal (19 points, 5 turnovers, 6-0f-14 from the field) following suit, the Wizards still have a long way to go if they want to sneak into the playoffs.
Magic 107, Nets 86
Jason Kidd’s coaching debut was ruined by a Magic team that has been one of the funnest teams to watch so far. The Nets found a way to keep this one close through the first two quarters, with a heavy dosage of Brook Lopez (21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Paul Pierce (16 points, 7 rebounds)—Brooklyn’s only players in double figures. The Nets just couldn’t seem to make a shot (38.2 percent shooting from the field) or grab a rebound (outrebounded 54-42) in this game. And when Kevin Garnett (8 points, 5 rebounds) took a seat on the bench, the defense clearly suffered. Garnett extending his defensive presence to those around him, even while not on the court, might take a little longer than expected. During a second half in which the Magic outscored the Nets 66-48, Victor Oladipo (19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), Nikola Vucevic (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Andrew Nicholson (17 points, 11 rebounds) led the charge. In a five-minute span between the third and fourth quarter, Oladipo exploded for 14 of his 19 points. While he seems to be coming into form, Vucevic remains a double-double machine and one of the most underrated players in the League. If Oladipo continues to mature at a rapid pace, it is only a matter of time before the Magic’s longest tenured player, Jameer Nelson, is moved.
Thunder 103, Suns 96
He’s back. It was reported earlier in the day that Russell Westbrook had been cleared to play and would start. Similar to Derrick Rose, Westbrook (21 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds) still had his powerful aggression but also had evident rust (5-of-16 from the field). Westbrook’s presence, though, drastically improved this Thunder offense, especially during the fourth quarter. The Suns have an injury of their own to deal with, as Goran Dragic (10 points) spraining his ankle on a drive to the basket in the third quarter. It did not look like a turned ankle injury that he will be able to simply walk off. Eric Bledsoe (26 points, career-high 14 assists, 3 steals, 8 turnovers) attempted to hold the fort without his fellow point guard but couldn’t handle Westbrook and Derek Fisher (9 points), who each hit big shots down the stretch. Channing Frye (19 points, 3 three-pointers) looked like his old self while Gerald Green (21 points, 9 rebounds) had a solid game off the bench. Over these first three games, the Thunder have shot 14-of-53 from deep, including 2-of-18 Sunday night.
Timberwolves 109, Knicks 100
This game featured the League’s leading scorer and no, it’s not Melo. Kevin Love (34 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists) did once have 53 straight double-doubles and his play to start the season has been reflective of that streak. Love and his Wolves took a 40-19 lead going into the second quarter but slowed down over the next three quarters. Throughout the night, though, Minnesota consistently attacked the rim, shooting 29-0f-38 from the line. Love’s new scoring and first-name partner Kevin Martin (30 points, 9-of-12 from the field, 5-of-5 on three-pointers) did what he does best: shoot. He gives the Wolves the long-range shooting they so desperately needed last season. New York did cut a 23-point deficit to two late in the game, but the Kevins closed this one out, scoring 11 of the Wolves’ final 12 points. Carmelo Anthony (22 points, 17 rebounds) led the way for the Knicks while Metta World Peace contributed 17 points off the bench and had a team-high +17 for the game. Raymond Felton finished with a game-high 12 assists, but four Knicks—including Felton—had at least three turnovers on the night. After leading the League with only 11.6 turnovers per game last year, they are currently averaging 17.7. The Knicks had two good defensive outings to start the year but couldn’t keep that going against the Wolves. (As I said this summer, this is Minnesota’s year to finally make the playoffs.)
Lakers 105, Hawks 103
Similar to their season-opener against the Clippers, the Lakers had a few stretches in this game where it seemed like they couldn’t miss, including the start. Los Angeles shot 7-for-10 from deep to start the game and quickly built up a 21-point lead early in the second quarter. Due to Kyle Korver (22 points, 6-of-6 on three-pointers) and his pure stroke, the Hawks crept back into this game, tying it at 103 with 35.3 seconds to go. After being reviewed, Paul Millsap (14 points, 7 rebounds) was called for a blocking foul and Pau Gasol (16 points, 13 rebounds) hit two clutch free throws with six seconds left in the game. Gasol then read the Hawks’ inbounds play and contested a last-second Korver heave and miss. The 7-foot Spaniard looks much more comfortable without Dwight Howard and has put up a double-double in three of four games this year. Xavier Henry (18 points) replaced Nick Young (13 points) in the starting lineup. Al Horford (12 points, 16 rebounds) pounded the glass but couldn’t seem to get his offense going while Jeff Teague (14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) didn’t move the ball very well.