The first night of NBA basketball was everything we expected: exciting, sloppy, entertaining, and largely lopsided.
All three games were more or less blowouts, but there were portions of the night that were every bit as entertaining as we could have hoped for, including one of the blowouts going exactly opposite of the way everyone expected. While there were no exciting finishes, it’s hard to complain about two national TV games that featured LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol.
That’s a pretty good slate. And as the night went on, the stars played better a whole. While James, Wade, and Rose combining to shoot just 14 for 39 from the field for a total of 42 points, the late, all-Los Angeles TNT game was entertaining enough to make up for it.
Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers
If nobody gave this game any attention, did it still happen? According to the box score (and those that took in the game on NBA League Pass can probably attest that it indeed occurred), last year’s Eastern Conference runner-up took down Orlando, 97-87.
The Magic actually outscored Indiana 26-17 in the second quarter and led by the score of 44-40 at halftime. From there, the home team took over, winning the second half 57-43 and coasting to the victory. Paul George led the Pacers with 24 points on 8 of 16 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, and 1 steal. Roy Hibbert only scored 8 points, but he pulled down 16 rebounds and swatted away 7 shot attempts.
For Orlando, second-year man Andrew Nicholson scored 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting in only 19 minutes of playing time. Jason Maxiell started and logged 26 minutes despite shooting 0-5 on the season and scoring exactly zero points. Arron Afflalo shot just 3 for 14 from the field, and consensus Rookie of the Year favorite Victor Oladipo scored 12 points on 4 of 11 shooting with just 3 rebounds and 2 assists.
Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat
Take out the second quarter, and the Chicago Bulls outscored the Miami Heat, 77-70.
Trouble is, that pesky second quarter counts just the same as the other three, and the Heat pounded the returning Derrick Rose and his teammates to the tune of a 37-18 score. A 54-33 halftime deficit was too much for Chicago to overcome, and they ultimately fell to the defending NBA champions by the score of 107-95.
Rose played for the first time in just over 18 months, looking rusty at times and finishing with just 10 points on 4 of 15 shooting with just 4 assists and 1 rebound while turning the ball over 5 times. He also shot just 1 of 7 from long range on the night. Jimmy Butler played well for Chicago, scoring 20 points on 6 of 12 shooting and chipping in 5 steals, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds.
LeBron James only shot the ball 11 times (making 5) and scoring 17 points, although he did pitch in 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 steal in a typical do-it-all performance from the reigning MVP. Dwayne Wade had a similarly ho-hum opener, scoring just 13 points on 5 of 13 from the field.
Boozer and Butler were the only two players on either team to score more than twenty points, and each team turned the ball over an unsightly 18 times. Joakim Noah was the only player to hit double digits in rebounds, pulling down 11 boards in just 20 minutes of court time as he continues to nurse a groin injury.
Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers
In what was by far the most entertaining game of the evening, the Lakers gave the loaded Clippers all they could handle on opening night at Staples Center before exclusively riding their bench to victory in the fourth quarter.
The first quarter was a Pau Gasol versus J.J. Redick showdown, as the Lakers’ big man turned back the clock with an array of fakes and hook shots in the post, even throwing a three pointer from the top of the arc into the first quarter highlight. Here’s hoping that Gasol’s various leg ailments have faded, and we’ll be able to enjoy a healthy Pau in 2013-14.
Things that became apparent by the time the Clippers led 57-55 at the half: Nick Young is bad, and Kobe/Lakers fans/Steve Nash/everyone is going to wish he wasn’t on the team. Also, Gasol wasn’t only scoring tonight, but he was back to facilitating, both from the high and low post. A beautiful, beautiful thing to watch.
And on the Clippers side, well, the offense is a thing of beauty. To be able to watch Chris Paul orchestrate a bevy of pick-and-rolls with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan while J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley space the floor is perfect basketball. It may, in fact, even be the definition of basketball.
Early in the fourth quarter, however, the Clippers offense stalled, and the Lakers slowly began to overtake coach Doc Rivers’ heavily favored squad. The Clippers began the final frame with a 79-75 lead, but it didn’t last long. It all started with the Lakers’ shaky bench overtaking the heavily-touted Clippers reserves, with Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks, Wes Johnson, and Jordan Hill taking it to the even smaller visiting lineup of Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, and DeAndre Jordan.
Farmar and Henry in particular took charge, while Jamal Crawford sputtered to a 3 for 10 shooting performance and the Clippers starters failed to regain any of the ground ceded by their bench to the Lakers’ counterparts. In fact, halfway through the final quarter, the Clippers starters found themselves being throttled by a Lakers’ lineup comprised entirely of bench players.
Incredibly, the Lakers (bench!) outscored Rivers’ crew 41-24 in the fourth quarter to coast to an easy victory over the final 6+ minutes. Undoubtedly not the way the Clippers expected the new era to begin.
A few quick LAC/LAL notes:
– To review: Nick Young = bad. Pau Gasol = good.
– The Lakers’ bench scored their last 46 points. Wait, what?
– Wes Johnson played nearly all of the power forward minutes off the bench for the Lakers in their small ball lineup. He did not shoot well at all (1-10), but actually bodied up Griffin fairly well on the other end of the court. Which is, of course, one of the knocks on Griffin. He allows himself to to disappear against players that are clearly inferior talents. There is no way that Griffin should be neutralized by a player like Wes Johnson like he was tonight.
– Xavier Henry played ridiculously well, shooting 8 of 13 on the night, tallying 22 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and just 1 turnover. The main knock is his 3-8 free throw shooting performance, but the rest of his game was a pleasant surprise.
It will be interesting to see if he is able to flourish with the opportunity to play more minutes than he has at any point in his young career. It will also be interesting if he can take the starting shooting guard spot away from Nick Young before Kobe Bryant is able to return.