It’s finally here everyone! If you missed the first night of the NBA season then you’ve come to the right place because I’ve got the scoop on everything you missed. It was an eventful offseason in the NBA headlined by LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kawhi Leonard and, more recently, Jimmy Butler, but with the start of the season comes a hole new herd of questions and headlines.
How will the Celtics manage minutes among of all its talented player? Will Philly rise to meet their teams’ expectations or are there still a few steps left in “the process”? And let’s not forget about the west. Can OKC make a jump after dumping Melo and do the Warriors even care about the regular season?
It was an exciting opening day for the NBA as both games had the potential to be Eastern and Western Conference Finals match-ups this season. So if you didn’t get to tune in last night or you’re curious as to how some of the questions I outlined above could shake out, here is your opening night recap.
76ers vs. Celtics
I began to write this recap as the 4th quarter was starting. In other words, I didn’t need to watch the entire game in order to know what is important to cover. And in still some OTHER words, that’s a bad sign for one of the two teams in this matchup. Unfortunately, that bad sign points straight to the poor floor spacing ability of the Philadelphia 76ers.
I know I said I didn’t totally need the 4th quarter to analyze this game, but the most useful sequence of the night happened then, so I’m going to use it. With about 8 minutes left in the 4th there were three straight possessions that went as follows:
- Jayson Tatum had Joel Embiid guarding him one-on-one at the top of the key and hit a step-back two-point jump shot right in his face.
- Joel Embiid had the ball on the next possession and got put in a cage by Al Horford (AKA he got stuffed under the rim and the C’s got the ball).
- After the shot clock reset to 14 Terry Rozier hit a 3 point shot that effectively ended the game.
The biggest takeaway from this game is either that the Celtics are REALLY good, the Sixers are not as good as we all thought, or both. And I’m leaning towards both.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both seem to be thought of as two of the 10 best players in the East coming into the season. Simmons can’t shoot from more than six feet away from the rim and on multiple possessions last night Embiid was struggling with the defensive efforts of not only Al Horford, but also Aron Baynes.
Markelle Fultz is a number one overall draft pick and he’s not getting crunch time minutes because his development is still a huge question mark. He’s the youngest player in NBA history to notch a triple-double, so the potential is there, but he’s had a lot more lows than highs in his NBA career thus far.
Maybe most importantly, as mentioned above, they really only have two guys who are super reliable three-point shooters in JJ Redick and Robert Covington. Embiid and Saric contribute every now and again from behind the arc, but not on a consistent enough basis to say that they are super effective at spacing the floor.
The only real bright spots of the evening for Philly were Simmons and Redick. Simmons had 19 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists. Redick came off the bench, as Fultz started in his spot, and notched 16 points which was good for the third highest total on the team behind Embiid and Simmons. Amir Johnson also came off the bench and, although he didn’t fill up that stat sheet, he looked pretty good as a guy who can come in and play some quality minutes.
All in all the Sixers seem to have a lot that they need to figure out.
Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward felt like they went a combined 5 for 40 from the field and still won the game by a score of 105-87. Really, they combined for 17 points which isn’t that far off.
This Celtics team could win 67 games this year. They’re deep and hungry and talented. Jayson Tatum is the real deal. Jaylen Brown almost threw down an atomic bomb on Joel Embiid. Marcus Morris game-scripted his way to 16 points. It’s all looking good for them.
The worst player in their rotation is probably either Marcus Smart or Aron Baynes, and neither of those two guys are pushovers on the defensive end. And on top of all that, it was clear that Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward weren’t up to speed. It’s early, I know, but if the Celtics continue on the same path and those two guys also play at their traditional levels as the season progresses, we may see someone finally dethrone the team from the bay.
If I had one red flag from this game for the Celtics, it’s the ability to balance minutes and crunch time playing. Specifically with Jaylen Brown. He’s a very talented guy, no doubt, but he seems to get the leftover Jayson Tatum praise which can be frustrating for players of his caliber. Whether or not Brown can be content with the role he’s given for the year will go a long way in determining his, and potentially his team’s, level of success.
Thunder vs. Warriors
This is a series that, since the departure of Kevin Durant in 2016 from OKC to GSW, has had a little bit of fire. I was hoping to see some of that tonight, but a few things looked different. Both Russell Westbrook (eating candy, knee) and Andre Roberson (knee) were out for OKC. Demarcus Cousins (knee) was out for GSW. Andre Iguodala left in the third quarter with an injury. And maybe most notably, Draymond Green hustled over to aid Steven Adams in getting up when he fell out of bounds near the baseline at one point during the contest. Both teams played pretty good basketball, but both still managed both fall well short of their potential.
Golden State Warriors
The first basket of the game was scored by Klay Thompson on an incredibly quick catch-and-shoot three from the corner. Is there a more perfect way for the Warriors’ season to begin?
It was clear for most of the game that the Warriors were the superior team. Steph had some quick release three-pointers himself, as well as a few of his textbook, crafty moves in the lane to finish around the rim which helped him lead the game with 32 points. Durant was his usual self on offense, coasting to 27 points, but also proving himself to be a nuisance defensively for the Thunder and for all of the KD nay-sayers. Klay only had 14 last night after opening the contest with that quick three. At one point he even missed two wide open threes on defensive breakdowns by OKC.
There’s not a ton to talk about here because you kind of know what you’re gonna get from Golden State now. They are heavy favorites to win, not only the West, but to three-peat as NBA champs. They have five All-Stars on their roster and a guy in Andre Iguodala who could win 6th Man of the Year every single year. I really only see two chinks in their armor.
Unfortunately for other teams in the league, both of these issues could be solved once Boogie returns. The first is that the Warriors’ bench isn’t great. There are a few minutes at the beginning of the second and fourth quarter rotations where, if Klay Thompson isn’t hitting, it can be tough for the Warriors to generate some offense against a savvy defensive team.
The other is the idea of GSW not really caring about this regular season too much (outside of Kevin Durant) just due to the fatigue of already having gone to four straight NBA finals. When Boogie returns he can bring a new energy and life to this team AND provide another guy out there to help Klay if he’s having off night. Once he’s back the Warriors can have at least two All-star caliber players on the floor at all times. Seems like smooth sailing ahead for them.
Oklahoma City Thunder
If the Warriors are an easy team to analyze this early in the season, the Thunder are just the opposite. The face of the franchise is out for an undisclosed amount of time, though we get the feeling it could be longer than any Thunder hopeful would really like. And Andre Roberson, who the league learned last season is a DPOY candidate when healthy, won’t be back until around Christmas. Those are two pretty significant injuries to have on a team with Western Conference Finals hopes.
It seemed like, with Westbrook out, there were possessions throughout the game where OKC just had trouble getting anything going offensively. Paul George was forced into a shot clock violation. Dennis Schroeder air-balled a three-pointer. Patrick Patterson is taking replacing Carmelo Anthony VERY literally it seems.
There was a stark need for a consistent shooter. If Alex Abrines or Patrick Patterson can become a consistent 3 point shooter, or even if Jerami Grant improves his stroke a little bit, it would work wonders for this Thunder offense. Whether it’s a slight team improvement or a noticeable single player improvement the Thunder will only be able to do so much without having some threats from behind the three-point line. It feels like they just need to jump up one more level.
The concerns are glaring, yes, but so is the potential. OKC got to the foul line a ton and have been a good free throw shooting team for most of their existence as a franchise. They’re long and athletic and have a lot of guys who can make surprisingly tough plays around the rim. Steven Adams is a rebounding machine. But most importantly, and the only thing that can save them this season without a vast improvement in the three ball percentages, is their defense. They were in the passing lanes all night and had multiple defensive rotations that led to blocks underneath. Nerlens Noel was immediately felt as a rim protector while he was in the game. If he develops some offense and rebounding he could be a sneaky good big man for the second unit.
The key here really is Andre Roberson. With him on the floor last year OKC was a top five defensive team in the league and if they can return to that this season, with what should be a better offense, they’ll have the tools to make a deep playoff run. That’s a big if though. Knee injuries are no joke and asking a guy like him to come back and jolt this team into the top 5 of defensive squads in the NBA is quite alot.
It’s the first game of the season so its tough to say where OKC will end up, but they have the potential to peak at just the right time. They didn’t have Roberson or Westbrook last night and still only lost 100-108 to Golden State in Oakland, which means that once those guys are back they should be able to hold their own if all goes as planned.
Thank you, Adam Silver, for giving us two of the most anticipated matchups of the season on opening night to enjoy. As the season goes on its clear that players on all four teams we saw tonight will progress and find their rhythm. All four of these teams are playoff locks in my mind. The biggest discrepancy in tonight and each teams’ “final form” if you will, will be OKC. The Celtics and Warriors are good, the Sixers look a bit troubling, but OKC will be a five or six seed in the West, lose more games than they probably should with two of their starters missing time, and then be a group that causes some trouble once the playoffs come around. Here’s to hoping your team outperforms expectation this season! Happy 2018-2019 NBA season everyone.