NBA opening night takeaways: Rockets shock Warriors, Hayward heartbreak
Durant's shot is too late and the champs lose; Hayward's awful injury overshadowed Cleveland's win
The NBA's opening night was not devoid of drama. After all of the trades, signings, hype and excitement, it took less than six minutes for the league to remind you of the highs and lows that it brings. Early in the Cleveland Cavaliers' against the Boston Celtics, LeBron James rejected rookie Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving hit a Dirk Nowitzki-esque fadeaway. Then, when trying to complete an alley-oop dunk, Celtics star Gordon Hayward landed violently on the floor and . Just like that, the excitement was gone.
Boston almost overcame that to pull off the upset, and the injury overshadowed the Cavs' victory. In the second game of the night, injuries remained a story -- Draymond Green , Chris Paul ended the game on the bench and Andre Iguodala was inactive because of a back strain -- but the Houston Rockets managed to make a statement by , thanks to Kevin Durant taking a tenth of a second too long to release what could have been the Golden State Warriors' winner. Takeaways:
Matt Moore: The big story, obviously, is Hayward's horrific leg injury. Midway through the first quarter, Hayward went down and, immediately, TNT announcer Kevin Harlan knew the situation. His call, "Hayward has broken his leg," will echo through fans' ears for some time, as will the unfortunate image caught live of the injury.
Players, fans, coaches, everyone in the building tried to contain their shock and nausea in the aftermath, as LeBron James went over to convey support to Hayward while he was being loaded onto the stretcher.
Hayward will need months just to get back on the floor; getting back to 100 percent and fully recovering will take much longer. It's devastating for the Celtics, and it's a bummer for the league to start that way. It has basketball ramifications.
But more important, think about what this means for Hayward. He just suffered something truly traumatic, physically and emotionally. He has to have surgery, which is painful and means enduring everything that goes with it. Then he has recovery, which is difficult. Then rehab. Then he has to get back on the floor. For everyone else, Hayward's injury is a storyline, but for Hayward, it's his life. Something to think about first and foremost.
THE HAYWARD FALLOUT
James Herbert: Do you want to talk about what Hayward's injury means for the Celtics? Is it appropriate? I'll give it a go: He is their best player. They will be much worse without him. Brad Stevens already had a tough task ahead of him -- bringing together a group that includes only four returning players -- but now he has to do it with significantly less talent. Beyond that, Hayward is versatile and unselfish, able to defend multiple positions and excel with or without the ball, the kind of guy everybody would love as a teammate. Marcus Smart can capably slide into his starting spot, but it will be harder to make all the pieces fit. Boston didn't have a ton of proven depth to begin with, and now it will be asking for even more from guys like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Semi Ojeleye.
If there is a silver lining, it is that there will be lowered expectations. Without Hayward, the Celtics will no longer be expected to win 50-plus games and make it back to the conference finals. Ideally, this means they will be better able to focus on developing their young players and creating a new identity. This is reaching, though -- under the circumstances, no one in the organization will be relieved about the reduced pressure. Ugh.
GREEN VINES GROWING
Matt Moore: The Celtics' youngsters were absolutely phenomenal in this game. Jaylen Brown showed off more confidence and control in his game on his way to 25 points, six rebounds, and two steals. Tatum, in his first NBA game, was blocked by James and shut down on several first-half possessions, but instead responded in the second half with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He found his way into quality buckets and stayed aggressive.
He even got James back in the second half:
Tatum's offensive polish is evident. Bench lineups with Terry Rozier and Brown are going to be effective, even without Hayward. Dwyane Wade surrenders this drive to cover the corner 3-pointer, but still, look at how smooth this finger roll is for Tatum:
The Celtics had a huge setback Tuesday night. But in the wake of that, there's real promise with the youngsters they need to help keep them afloat.
James Herbert: That this ended with Irving airballing a 3-pointer over James felt sort of scripted. If you believe that Irving made a mistake by ditching James and looking to become the face of a franchise, then it was probably satisfying. It would be stretching things, however, to present this moment as a microcosm of the game. Irving did not spend his first outing with the Celtics playing hero ball or dribbling himself into exhaustion. It was nice to see him playing off the ball in some of the same sets where Isaiah Thomas thrived last season, and he made some pinpoint passes out of the pick-and-roll.
This was an awful night for Boston, and the encouraging signs will rightfully be overshadowed by Hayward's injury. When it comes to integrating Irving, though, the coaching staff should be pleased. There were and are legitimate concerns about how he will adjust to Stevens' system, so racking up 10 assists in his debut is pretty remarkable.
ROUGH START FOR ROSE
James Herbert: In contrast to Irving, Derrick Rose did not shine in his first game playing point guard for his new team. The numbers -- 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, two turnovers -- tell some of the story, but it's not just that he was inefficient. It's that he forced drives to the basket rather than making simple passes for his teammates, defenders ignored him when he was on the perimeter and he was inattentive on the other end. While there is plenty of time for him to establish chemistry with his teammates, that never really happened last year in New York.
Even with Isaiah Thomas out of the lineup, it is kind of mind-blowing that Rose played 30 minutes, which is two minutes more than Kevin Love, eight more than J.R. Smith and 11 more than Tristan Thompson. On the plus side: Rose at least is willing to take 3-pointers this season, after refusing to do so with the Knicks. He went 1 for 3 from deep in the season opener.
Matt Moore: They won. Great. There's a lot to be worried about. Rose and Wade combined to shoot 8 for 24 from the field. Wade at least looked like he could operate in the offense; he needs to chill with the post-ups like it's still 2009, but he had smart cuts and some great blocks.
Rose, on the other hand, had a bad first game. You can chalk it up to not knowing the personnel and other first-game issues, but much of it is stuff that is endemic to his identity now. He over-dribbled, isolated, tried to take on superior defenders, didn't look for kickouts, made bad defensive rotations, and clogged spacing, on top of missing shots.
There will be nights where Rose looks great, but he has to be miles away from where he is now in order for him to be impactful with Cleveland. He finished with a minus-7; he, Wade, and Kyle Korver were the only Cavaliers with negative plus-minus figures.
Jeff Green, on the other hand, played pretty well. He finished a few dunks, didn't make any terrible mistakes.
The best new Cavalier? Jae Crowder. He brought toughness and defensive intelligence to a team that badly needs it. His plus-8 was fitting despite a 3-of-10 shooting night.
It's good it's the first game, because Cleveland has got a lot to figure out.
NO DRAY, NO PLAY (DEFENSE)
Matt Moore: Draymond Green left with what's being called a "sprained knee" before the fourth quarter, and that's where the wheels came off for Golden State. Houston outscored them 34-20 in the fourth quarter, with Clint Capela scoring six big buckets. If Green misses any significant time, it's a major problem for Golden State. Durant is just as good of a defender as Green in some capacities, but he can get bullied in certain matchups, and Green's versatility covers for a lot of deficiencies with the others.
His absence wasn't just a big deal for this game. If he misses time, Golden State is going to have to come up with some tough solutions. On Tuesday, they didn't have the ones they needed.
BEARD BETTER THAN EVER?
James Herbert: When watching James Harden annihilate the New York Knicks in a meaningless exhibition game, I had a thought: What if James Harden has gotten even better? Obviously being able to lighten his offensive load and take advantage of open looks from Chris Paul should help, but the MVP runner-up might have improved in a way that is unrelated to the Rockets' revamped roster: His fitness level.
Harden has always been a strong dude, but he has never appeared to be in better shape than he is now. I'm not sure if he dropped the magical 15 pounds over the summer, but he looks quicker and more explosive. Look at the agility he showed here:
He finished with 27 points, 10 assists and six rebounds while shooting 10 for 23, a line that doesn't really stand out after what he did last season.
ERIC THE RED
Matt Moore: Eric Gordon finished with 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Most of his work was done against subpar defenders; rookie Jordan Bell had a bad time trying to contain him, and Gordon torched Nick Young twice in the fourth. When Gordon steps up like that, it makes up for a night where Paul was limited because of a knee injury.
Gordon won Sixth Man of the Year last season, but he's not talked about as a real contributor. Gordon wasn't just spotting up in this game, in fact Gordon was 0 for 6 from deep. Gordon just flat out beat his defenders on the perimeter and got to the rim. That's where the Rockets' spacing helps, there was no one under the rim to bring help half the time.
THE ROCKETS' BENCH IS FOR REAL
James Herbert: This was a classic D'Antoni eight-man rotation, with all the reserve minutes going to Gordon and the two defensive-minded forwards Luc Mbah a Moute. When Houston went to the bench, it kept playing fast and launching 3s, but it became tougher and essentially threw positions out the window. By the end of the game, the Rockets looked more like the Warriors than the Warriors did, given that Green and Andre Iguodala were sidelined.: P.J. Tucker and
Tucker and Mbah a Moute did not look like defensive specialists, combining for 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting, including 6 for 9 from deep. They're not thought of as knockdown 3-point shooters, but they should get open, in-rhythm looks all year playing next to Harden and Paul in D'Antoni's system. They're not thought of as play makers, but they also appear to have been empowered to attack the basket when they see an opening. If Houston spaces the floor, this can be effective.
SWAGGY P IS NO JOKE
James Herbert: The Warriors didn't sign Young because JaVale McGee wanted to hang out with him. They didn't sign Young because he's fun and fans like him. He might be seen as a human meme, but Young fits Golden State's system well and will have a role to play, just like McGee did last season. If he hadn't impressed Luke Walton with his defense last year in Los Angeles, he wouldn't be a Warrior. If he tries to do too much, Steve Kerr can yank him out of the lineup and put Patrick McCaw or any of Golden State's other wings on the floor.
Young made his first five shots in his Warriors debut and scored 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting, including 20 in the first half alone. He might have the best job in the NBA, with the green light to fire away from deep and the luxury of being able to play off multiple superstars. Depending on your perspective, this either looks like a match made in heaven or another example of Golden State's roster being unfair.
The crazy part: This came out of nowhere. Young wasn't in great condition at the beginning of the preseason, and Kerr apparently didn't expect that much from him right away.
"He made like one shot in training camp," Kerr said in a sideline interview. "I guess he's a gamer."
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