The NBA tipped off its 72 campaign with two entertaining games on Tuesday night.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics started things off with a thrilling game that saw the Cavs blow an 18-point lead and still win. Later that night, the Golden State Warriors raised their 2017 championship banner later and held a 14-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Rockets mounted a huge comeback and held a one-point lead in the waning seconds and the ball in Kevin Durant’s hands. Durant made the shot but it was waived off as it came a split second too late thus giving the Rockets a 122-121 victory.
The rest of the article are six observations from Tuesday’s games.
The Cavaliers are still a work in progress
The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled out a 102-99 season victory over the Boston Celtics in an exciting game on NBA opening night. LeBron James led the way and Kevin Love made a key three-pointer late in the game to essentially seal the victory. James nearly recorded his 56th career-double by producing 29 points -- 13 points in the fourth quarter -- 16 rebounds and nine assists. Love finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for his 371 career double-double.
The game got off to a little rough start as both teams have several new players and it will take a lot of time to work out the kinks. But the Cavs closed the opening quarter on a 14-2 run over the final four minutes as Tristan Thompson and JR Smith combined for 11 points. Cleveland extended its lead to as many as 18 points in the second quarter and held a 16 point edge at halftime.
The Cavaliers struggled on the defensive end and with turnovers the entire second half. The Cavaliers surrendered 61 points over the last 24 minutes, which included several transition buckets.They were able to come away with the win as James found Love in the right corner for a three-pointer with 46 seconds left.
Defensively, Cleveland left a number of shooters wide open. The Cavs don’t have any real rim-protectors.
Cleveland has three new starters and six new players on their 13-man roster. So, it will take time for the Cavs to work on their chemistry. Plus, James dealt with an ankle issue the entire preseason.
The Cavaliers’ starters outscored the Celtics starters 79-72 for the game. The Cavs starters were a combined +3 in the plus/minus rating with James, Love and Jae Crowder finishing with positive marks.Derrick Rose had a -7 rating and Dwyane Wade had a 0 rating. However, the Cavs were outscored 41-36 with James, Wade and Rose were on the court together.
Smith and Thompson put up quality minutes off the bench as they did what will be expected of them. Smith, who will likely see between 22 and 30 minutes of court time a game, will be counted on to provide instant offense and defense. He tallied 10 points, on 4-of-7 shooting, and grabbed four rebounds. In the meantime, Thompson brought his usual energy and grabbed six boards in 20 minutes of action.
Love was relatively invisible on the offensive end. He did finish with nine shot attempts, making four and was 6-of-7 from the charity stripe. The 6-10 big man is now the team’s starting center and he will need more touches even if it is to feed James, Wade or Crowder posting up.
Wade and Rose had inauspicious debuts although both players bring things to the table. Wade produced 8 points, on 3-of-10 shooting, and three assists along with four turnovers. Rose contributed 14 points, on 5-of-14 shooting, along with four rebounds and two dimes.
Wade is not the player that he used to be, and at 35-years-old that can be expected. He will be counted on mainly to be a secondary ball-handler who will be able to score off the dribble. Wade likely won’t get to the rim as much as he used to.Still, Wade will probably do most of his scoring in the paint off of drives as he has a number of tricks or when he posts up.
Wade is long and possesses enough athleticism to be a quality defender. He recorded two key blocks late in the fourth quarter against the Celtics. He is also a good passer though it would be beneficial if he can cut down on his turnovers.
Rose is not Kyrie Irving and never was. Regardless, he is a good a temporary replacement with Isaiah Thomas out until December. Rose still possesses very good athleticism, not elite as when he was younger, though he can still get the hoop and finish through contract. He, like Wade, is at his best in the midrange off the dribble as he is excellent on pull-up jumpers and floaters. Defense is an issue for Rose as he doesn’t move well laterally.
Gordon Hayward is a major loss for the Celtics
Hayward suffered a gruesome injury during the first six minutes of action last night. OfficIally, Hayward suffered a fractured ankle and is out for the remainder of the season. While its is a horrible injury for him and the Celtics, the good news it is not devastating for the team.
Yes, Hayward was going to count on to provide leadership and be the team’s No. 2 scorer. The truth is Hayward is a very good offensive player who exhibits excellent marksmanship as a shooter. He is average on the defensive end and as a rebounder, at best. The 27-year-old is a good ball-handler as well as a passer and can score a variety of ways.
Here is the thing, the Celtics have a lot of new faces with just four players returning from last year’s cub and a ton of young players. So, like the Cavs, the Celtics were going to be a work in progress as it was.
What Hayward’s injury does do is give rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year forward Jaylen Brown max growth opportunity. Both players were excellent in the season opener as they combined for 39 points, on 16-of-35 shooting, and 16 rebounds. They were also all over the floor on both ends. Brown contributed 25 points, six rebounds and two steals in 40 minutes of action.
Brown was likely going get his share of minutes as it was, but he will now be counted on to be a major part of the offense. The 20-year-old long, athletic forward is uber talented and plays with a high motor on both ends of the floor. He is really a slasher who is excellent in transition. Brown does need to cut down on his turnovers and improve his three-point shooting.
Tatum struggled in the first half of his NBA debut, which was not unexpected. But he came out of the locker room like a totally different, much more confident play. The 6-8 forward scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 10 rebounds, four on the offensive end, while also dishing out three assists. He is the first Celtics player to post a double-double in his NBA debut since Larry Bird in 1979.
Tatum looked a little out of sorts in the first half, missing all five of his shots. He finished the night 5-of-12 from the field as he scored in transition, on drives and from the perimeter as well as the free throw line.
If Boston’s youngsters, which also includes Marcus Smart along with Terry Rozier and Semi Ojeleye, finally reach their potential the C’s will be in fine shape.
The Celtics have some roster flexibility to find a veteran replacement. The Celtics are expected to receive a disabled player exception player, for Hayward, valued at over $8.2 million to be used this season. They currently have only 14 players on the roster.
Celtics are going to be great on the defensive end
Defense is one area that the Celtics should be better at with Hayward on the shelf. As mentioned above, Hayward is an average player defensively at best. He ranked 41st out of 66 small forwards in defensive real plus-minus last season. The 2017 all-star also posted a 102.9 defensive rating, a 3.3 defensive win share and a 0.0 defensive plus-minus rating.
Hayward is one of the least athletic players on the C’s roster. Aron Baynes is perhaps the only player who Hayward is more athletic than that is in the team’s regular rotation.
Brown and Tatum appear to be among the top echelon wing defenders. And both players can guard multiple positions. The reason Brown and Tatum’s have such promising upside on the defensive end is due to their length, athleticism and high-motor. Both can collect steals and block shots as well.
Irving is one of the worst defensive point guards in the league. Morris is a physical defender who can guard both forward positions as well as shooting guard.
The real defensive stars of the team are Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Smart is a physical specimen who is very strong and quick. He has very good hands and can guard four positions despite being 6-4. Rozier is super quick with excellent instincts
Aron Baynes will help the C’s in rebounding
One of the Celtics’ biggest weaknesses last year was rebounding. The C’s ranked 22nd in offensive rebounding (9.1), 22nd in defensive rebounding (32.9) and 27th in total rebounds (42.0).
Al Horford led the team with 6.8 boards a game. Horford is the only player currently on the team who ranked in the top five in rebounding last season. To help in that department this offseason, the Celtics signed former Detroit Piston Aron Baynes as a free agent contract.
Baynes is a hard-nosed player who is in the league because of his toughness and rebounding ability. The 30-year-old averages a rebounder every 3.4 minutes for his career and has produced double-digit rebounds per 40 minutes in five of his six years. In addition, his rebound rate dropped below 16.0% for the first time in the last four years.
Nick Young could be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate
Young showed why the Golden State Warriors signed the veteran this summer despite of possible chemistry issues. Young has always had superb talent, consistency and his attitude has prevented him from being among the top guards in the country.
Young, the third best at shooting off the catch in the league, was outstanding against Houston. He poured in 23 points, on 8-of-9 shooting including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc, in 26 minutes of action. Most of his buckets versus the Rockets came on catch and shoot situations. He did also score in transition, off the catch in transition and even had a couple of buckets coming off the dribble.
The 32-year-old wing averaged 13.2 points and shot 43.0% from the field as well as 40.4% from beyond the arc in 2016-17. He averages 12.0 and 1.4 triples a game at a 37.7% clip for his clip.His best season came in 2013-14 when he compiled 17.9 points a game as he shot 43.5% from the field and 38.6% on three-point attempts.
It is just one game and Andre Iguodala will likely be the first player off the bench when he gets healthy with a back problem. There is no timetable for Iggy’s return.
Houston is not very deep
The Rockets were the first team to make big noise this offseason, obtaining star point guard Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for seven players and a few draft picks. Paul is a future Hall-of-Famer who is a wizard with the basketball in his hands and a great scorer. He is also one of the top point guards in the league defensively.
The big question is does Paul really make the Rockets better? Time will ultimately tell, but he will definitely be a big part of any success for the Rockets this year and future seasons.
The more important issue is the team’s depth. Patrick Beverly and Montrezl Harrell were important pieces to the Rockets success last year and are now in Los Angeles Beverly started at point guard for Houston while Harrell made some spot starts though he was a really valuable off the bench. Sam Dekker, who was also involved the trade as well, was an important role player.
That said, the Rockets do have one of the best eight-to-nine man rotations in the league. As Luc Mbah a Moute, PJ Tucker and Eric Gordan lead the bench mob for the team. Nene will also be part of the regular rotation when he is healthy.
The problem will be if/when someone gets injured.