Well that was a good start from the reigning Finals MVP
Giannis Antetokounmpo was not playing around on opening night. He dominated the first quarter, and by the time he sat to rest in the opening period had 13 points, 8 rebounds, an assist and a block. He finished with 32 points and was ruthlessly efficient from the field, hitting 11 of 21 of his shots inside the arc. He also had 7 assists.
He even hit a three, going 1 of 4 from deep but showing a much more comfortable jumper. Most importantly, he hit 7 of 9 of his free throws while showing off a much faster routine. If he keeps it up, there definitely won’t be any 10-counts from hostile crowds this season.
Having now left the group of MVPs who never won a title, Antetokounmpo has nothing else to hold him back now. If he continues with his evolution, it’s going to be a rough time everyone else in the Eastern Conference. Remember, he’s still only 26, so he’s still got time to refine and improve his game. He might just do it as a “fuck you” to everyone who’s said that his title was won through luck.
The Bucks got their usual production from Khris Middleton, and more importantly got a combined 35 points from Jordan Nwora and Pat Connaughton, who found themselves open a lot because of all the attention their Finals MVP drew. Man, this Bucks team could be real fun to watch this season.
Patty Mills showed why the Nets signed him
Patty Mills showed exactly why they brought him in. After leading Australia to their first basketball medal, Mills made his regular season debut for the Brooklyn Nets and shot a perfect 7 of 7 from three. His 21 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists were the only highlight from the Nets bench. Everyone else that got minutes from that bench combined for a sad 4 points.
Mills is an NBA champion and a disciple of Greg Popovich. It’s safe to bet that he’ll continue having solid games for Brooklyn.
Kevin Durant and James Harden will want to see Mills continue to make an impact, seeing as the star duo’s combined 52 points were not enough to counter the hard-charging NBA champs in their 127-104 loss.
The Nets have also got to play harder on defense. The Bucks got way too many open shots in transition because Brooklyn were too slow to come back. But well hey, you win some, you lose some, losing to the defending champs isn’t cause for concern.
Steph Curry found a way to contribute while shooting terribly
Steph Curry had himself a real stinker from the field, going 5 of 21 overall and 2 of 8 from deep. That didn’t stop him from contributing to the Golden State Warriors and their upset victory against the LA Lakers. Curry finished with his first triple-double since 2016 by notching 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and 3 steals. He was masterful on the court without the ball, and could also take credit for a number of hockey assists. Even on an off night, he still drew so much attention. It probably didn’t help the Lakers that he made his second three of the game in the fourth quarter and helped key a run that helped the Dubs put the Lakers away.
Curry was critical of his game, and was honest about it. That’s why it’s hard to dislike him.
Jordan Poole doesn’t give a fuck where he shoots the ball from, and that’s good
Curry set off the three-point revolution a few years ago, and his teammate Jordan Poole definitely took notes growing up. The third-year guard finished with 20 points on 8 of 18 shooting, along with 4 of 11 from beyond the arc. It wasn’t the greatest shooting night by any means, but what’s good to see is his fearlessness. With the Warriors down two to start the fourth, Jordan Poole calmly took and sank a 26-footer, giving the Warriors a lead. Sure, he bricked his next attempt, which came from 28 feet, but that doesn’t matter. You’ve got to be ready to take the big shots.
Poole was pretty fearless when driving to the bucket as well. He even took a big shot from Dwight Howard and still managed to sink a driving layup.
Nemanja Bjelica was a solid pickup
Nemanja Bjelica wasn’t a marquee signing, but he’s been criminally under appreciated over his NBA career. He’s a solid three point shooter, has decent ball handling thanks to growing up in Europe and learning good fundamentals, and I mentioned in my game preview that he would be a player to watch. He didn’t disappoint, finishing with a double-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal with only one turnover. He had the highest plus/minus of the game with +20.
Bjelica was the highlight of a Warriors team that was unselfish as a whole. They had 30 assists on 41 made field goals, and that only happens when you trust your teammates and your offensive system.
The Lakers need to determine who’s going to help Anthony Davis and LeBron James
Who you calling old? LeBron James led the Lakers with 34 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal and a black while shooting 13 of 23 from the field and 5 of 11 from deep. His only real flaw was bad free throw shooting as he went 3 of 6 from the line. He started the game 6 for 6 from the field, and was a big part of the reason that the Lakers had control early in the game.
LBJ definitely has added old man skills to his game, especially his continuously improving post fadeaway, but he can still run the floor, punctuated by a fast break dunk in the third quarter. It’s good for NBA fans if he stays healthy, because he continues to be one of its biggest draws and best players.
Anthony Davis also looked fresher than he has in a long time in the opening game, bullying his way in the post on the way to 33 points and 11 rebounds on 15 of 26 shooting. The Warriors had no answer to his presence, and he toyed with them for most of the game.
The problem is the drop off in production that happens after the Lakers’ two superstars. Nobody else, including the other starters, scored in double digits. The third member of their big three, Russell Westbrook, finished with a game-worst plus/minus of -23. He had 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 turnovers while shooting 4 of 13 from the field (0 of 4 from deep). Remember how the Lakers were sagging off Westbrook in their playoff series in Houston to goad him into taking threes? The Warriors did that today with absolutely no remorse. Westbrook’s hard-nosed style also earned him charging call when the game was still close, which didn’t help his team.
Carmelo Anthony didn’t fare much better either, scoring 9 points while making 2 of 4 threes. He also got his first two fouls seemingly within seconds of checking into the game for the first time. I’m not as worried about Melo as Westbrook, though, as he showed in his time with Portland that he can be a reliable scoring option off the bench.
So, we’ll need to see who’ll step up for LA. They can rely on James and Davis to produce, but those two aren’t going to be able to carry them to another ring without more contributions from their supporting cast.
Injuries could be an issue already for some contenders
The Bucks, who were already missing Bobby Portis, Rodney Hood, Semi Ojeleye and Donte DiVincenzo got even more bad news as Jrue Holiday was forced to leave the game with a bruised heel. You don’t want to lose one of your best players this early in the season, even for a few games, so let’s hope that Holiday recovers well.
The same could be said for the Lakers and Warriors. Golden State don’t have a set timetable for either Klay Thompson or James Wiseman’s return, so they must have winced when it looked like Jordan Poole needed his ankle worked on a bit.
The Lakers are riding thin, too, with Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington, Talen Horton-Tucker and Trevor Ariza out. Let’s hope the injury bug doesn’t get worse.