While Tuesday night was the first night of the NBA season for the Warriors, Nets, Clippers, and Lakers, Wednesday brought the first game of the year for most of the league, as for the first time in months it became nearly impossible to keep track of everything happening at once in the Association.
In case you were dialed in on your favorite squad or player for opening night, we wanted to help out and provide a look at some of the best of what took place on Wednesday night from around the league, which saw some impressive scoring performances, a few surprising results, and just generally a fun night filled with hoops.
The Hawks Offense Looks Unstoppable (And The Bulls Have A Lot Of Work To Do)
We’ll try to focus on the positives from the Atlanta-Chicago game, which would mean keeping this to being about the Hawks. Atlanta won 124-104 in the opener on the road against the Bulls, but led by as many as 40 as they completely dominated Chicago from the opening tip. As expected, offense carried the day for the Hawks who scored 83 points in the first half, before letting their best players enjoy a rest for the second half.
Trae Young was the star for Atlanta’s offense, pouring in 37 points on insane efficiency, as he was 10-of-12 from the field, 5-of-6 from three, and 12-of-14 from the free throw line — pitching in seven assists and six rebounds for good measure.
🔥 37 PTS
🔥 10-12 FGM
🔥 5-6 3PM
🔥 12-14 FTM
— NBA (@NBA) December 24, 2020
Helping Young was the new depth of the Hawks, who had no one else score more than 15 points but had seven players in double figures. Cam Reddish and Bogdan Bogdanovic each had 15, John Collins had 14, Danilo Gallinari had 13, and De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter each chipped in 11, as just about everybody got to eat for Atlanta, while also not having to extend any of those seven players over 27 minutes on the evening.
The Bulls looked like a disaster, as Billy Donovan has his work cut out for him in trying to piece together rotations and a new offensive and defensive system. Still, the expectation was that the Hawks would be a terrific offense, led by their third-year star who was finally being surrounded by some stellar veteran offensive weapons (and the hopeful growth of their young supporting cast). Opening night was a terrific start for the Hawks on their quest for the postseason, as they already appear to be very comfortable playing together.
Career Nights For Ja Morant And Terry Rozier
Ja Morant has only been in the NBA for a season, but what a season it was, as he nearly led Memphis to the playoffs and picked up Rookie of the Year honors in his first season. Year 2 can be a tricky one, as the league begins to gameplan more for you through having more film to look at, but Morant showed no signs of of a possible sophomore slump as he erupted for a career-high 44 points to go along with nine assists on 18-of-27 shooting in the opener against the Spurs, although the Grizzlies would drop the game 131-119.
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 24, 2020
First 40 burger of his career.
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 24, 2020
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 24, 2020
Ja wasn’t alone in having a career night in a loss, as Terry Rozier put up a new high mark with 42 points in the Hornets 121-114 loss to the Cavaliers. Rozier did much of his work from beyond the arc, hitting 10 three-pointers, but also showed some crafty finishing at the rim. For anyone wondering how he would respond to the Hornets drafting LaMelo Ball as their lead guard of the future, he seems to have taken it as motivation to ball out and remind everyone why he belongs where he is in the starting lineup.
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) December 24, 2020
— FOX Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnFSSE) December 24, 2020
It’s worth noting the terrific outings on the other side of those career nights that handed both Morant and Rozier losses. The Spurs and Cavs, like the Hawks, each saw seven players reach double figures. San Antonio was paced by DeMar DeRozan’s 28 (with nine assists and nine boards), while the Cavs got 27 points from Collin Sexton as he started his third season with an impressive showing.
The Bank Is Open, But The Iron’s Unkind In Boston
The end of the game in Boston was sensational as the league’s showcase game of the night between the Celtics and Bucks lived up to the billing. All the stars in the game showed out, with 63 combined points from the Celtics young star duo of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, while the Bucks’ Big 3 all had huge performances, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 35 points. However, it was two bounces at the end of the game that decided this one in the Celtics favor.
After the Bucks erased a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to lead 120-119, it was Jayson Tatum who beat the buzzer with a banked in three over Giannis to give Boston a two-point lead — with Tatum admitting after it was a happy accident to get the kind kiss off the glass.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 24, 2020
After a somewhat mysterious foul call on Tristan Thompson on the ensuing inbounds lob play, Giannis found himself at the foul line, where he sank his first but left the second short, launching off the rim and harmlessly to the ground to allow Boston to escape without overtime. It’s a big win for Boston in giving them the confidence even without Kemba Walker to know they can compete with the best in the league, while the Bucks clearly have some work to do in figuring out rotations and how to get their “others” more involved and get greater impact from the bench.
Chris Paul And Devin Booker Are Gonna Be Fun Together
The Suns and Mavs were the other national TV game and they too put on quite the show. Luka Doncic wasn’t at his best but still filled up the stat sheet, but in the end it wasn’t enough to overcome the late game execution of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The two star guards for Phoenix were two of the best closers in the league last year, and we learned the answer of the question of how they’d handle the end of games together: Both are gonna eat.
With a 101-100 lead, Paul took the first turn on the ball and got to his favorite spot on the right elbow off a pick-and-roll with Deandre Ayton. After that, it was Booker’s turn to go to the exact same spot in isolation for what effectively became the dagger.
OH, THIS IS WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT! pic.twitter.com/HUzXHx8FpF
— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) December 24, 2020
It’s the separator for this Suns team over a team like the Mavs (as they currently exist without Kristaps Porzingis) and some of the other West playoff contenders. Paul was quiet in his Suns debut, scoring just eight points with five assists and four rebounds as he continues working his way back into shape, but when the moment called for it, he did what he’s so good at, which is getting to his spot for a clutch bucket. Booker had 22 to lead the Suns, although eight turnovers spelled out some of the rust he too seems to be shaking off after a super-efficient 2019-20 campaign. Still, even with less than the best from their stars, the Suns depth helped carry them to the point where those two could do what they do best and close it out. Mikal Bridges had 18 points, Cam Johnson had 15 off the bench, and that well-rounded performance set them up for a big opening night win. There’s still plenty to improve upon, but for a team with firm playoff aspirations this season, it’s a good starting point.
Sacramento has not been discussed much as a playoff contender in the West, as the loss of Bogdan Bogdanovic coupled with an offseason without a splashy acquisition has most believing they’ll be on the outside looking in in the hyper-competitive West playoff race. However, they reminded everyone of why they’ve been close the last two seasons and can’t be simply overlooked on the schedule as they gutted out a 124-122 win over the Nuggets in what was the game of the night.
De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Harrison Barnes each had 21-plus points in the OT thriller, with Hield and Fox each having heroic moments in the closing minute, with Fox getting a sensational chasedown block of Will Barton to keep Sacramento’s hopes alive and then Hield following a Barnes miss (as Barton got revenge with a block of his own) to tip in the game-winning basket at the buzzer.
What a win over the Nuggets. Hustle plays all over in OT. De'Aaron Fox with the block to save it and Buddy Hield with the tip-in to win it.
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) December 24, 2020
It’s far too early to take this as some sort of indication that the Kings are vastly underrated, but it’s an exciting way to start the season in Sacramento and boost the confidence in that locker room that they have a roster capable of challenging anyone on any given night. As for the Nuggets, Jokic had a monster 29-point, 15-rebound, 14-assist triple double and Michael Porter Jr. had a nice 24-point night, but they’ll be looking for more from Bubble star Jamal Murray, who fouled out with just nine points and missed the OT period as they launch their push for a followup to a surprise conference finals trip a year ago.
A Statement From The Jazz
When the schedule came out, Jazz-Blazers looked like one of the best games of the day, but Utah jumped out early and dusted the Blazers in Portland 120-100. They got production from just about everyone on the roster, headlined by a monster 20 and 17 game from Rudy Gobert.
📹| @rudygobert27 ⤵️
20p | 17r | 8-10 fg | 2a | 1s pic.twitter.com/hP3LTs1URe
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) December 24, 2020
The Blazers were the darlings of the offseason with their pickups in trades and free agency, but it’s clear that getting everyone on the same page is a work in progress. On top of that, Damian Lillard had a dismal night with just nine points and that’s something Portland isn’t equipped to overcome. A lot of the credit belongs to the Jazz for a phenomenal performance on both ends of the floor, as they locked up Lillard and made life difficult on the Portland offense to get going. For a team that had a disappointing end to last season as the first of two teams to drop a 3-1 lead to Denver, Utah reminded everyone why they still belong in the conversation for one of the best teams in the West.
The Spurs Are…Fun?!
I mentioned them in the above section on Morant, but San Antonio ran up 131 points on Memphis and looked impressive on the offensive end. They went small with LaMarcus Aldridge at the 5 spot in the starting lineup and the results were pretty spectacular. All five starters had at least 16 points, with the aforementioned 28-point outburst from DeMar DeRozan leading the way.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 24, 2020
For a team that, even when they were the best team in the league, has long been considered boring, it’s time for non-Spurs fans to catch up because they have a really interesting balance of fun young players and vets and now that they seem to be embracing small-ball, they’re going to be a fun League Pass squad. With DeRozan and Aldridge most think of a plodding team in the halfcourt, but they got out and ran in this one and seem to be embracing a faster pace, thanks to the presence of some young legs like those of Lonnie Walker IV who had a pair of monster dunks.
LONNIE WITH THE STEAL AND STUFF: pic.twitter.com/BQRc86YGOG
— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) December 24, 2020