The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to buck the odds and not only won last night without a single superstar player, but won convincingly against veteran players and a grizzled veteran coach, behind guys like Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski.
Other impressive debuts last night were Isaac Okoro, Jaylen Nowell, Nigel Williams-Goss, Bobby Portis, Kelly Oubre, Jr., and the return of Kent Bazemore.
But definitely not LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, or Chris Paul (DNP).
Indiana Pacers 104
Cleveland Cavaliers 107
Despite keeping most everyone together in the Indiana Pacers’ lineup, the team managed to put together a solid first pre-season game performance. And lost. To the Cleveland Cavaliers. Without Tristan Thompson. And with Kevin Love having a six point night on 40 percent shooting.
Indiana led the game after the first and third quarters, but defensively could not withstand the 42 point fourth quarter that the Cavaliers pulled out of their back pocket for the unlikeliest of wins. After all, Cleveland was down 73-65 going into the final stanza.
Veteran Cedi Osman paced the Cavs with a game high 23 point performance, but it was former Auburn product Isaac Okoro, a kid who four teams passed on in the 2020 NBA Draft, that impressed and showed that the future of the Cavs is on solid footing. Okoro dropped 18 points and had three steals, but hit the game winning bucket against the Pacers last night. Collin Sexton sat and watched as Darius Garland led the team on the floor, something the Cavaliers have been hoping to transition since drafting the young man from Vanderbilt last season.
Victor Oladipo had a modest six points in his start, but the Pacers’ attack was engineered and led by its big men – Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, who had 16 and 14 points, respectively. Malcolm Brogdon turned in a fine performance with 16, four, and five on the night. Doug McDermott, Justin Holiday, and newcomer Kelan Martin went for 13 points, 12 points, and 11 points in the loss.
16 points – 13 rebounds – two assists – one steal
|Cedi Osman23 points – five rebounds – one assist – one steal|
16 points – four rebounds – five assists – two steals – one block
18 points – one rebound – one assist – three steals
14 points – six rebounds – one assist – three blocks
|Darius Garland14 points – one rebound – one assist – one steal|
Damyean Dotson finished with 12 points in his debut for the Cavaliers. JaVale McGee, Kevin Porter, and Sexton did not play. T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb did not play for the Pacers, while rookie Cassius Stanley got 10 minutes of action for five points in his first NBA game.
Indiana at Cleveland – Monday, 6 p.m. EST
Toronto Raptors 111
Charlotte Hornets 100
LaMelo Ball, for all the hype, earned a goose egg on his first night in the NBA, shooting 0-for-five; but he did dish out four assists and was busy on the boards with 10 rebounds.
The Charlotte Hornets were squashed, however, by a bunch of no-name Toronto Raptors, thanks in large to a disappointing night from the Hornets’ other off-season pick-up, the $120 million Gordon Hayward. Hayward only scored 11 points on 50 percent shooting – four of eight from the field and one of two from downtown.
Other than Hayward, Miles Bridges, and veteran Hornet Bismack Biyombo, no Hornet player scored in double digits. The Hornets shot a dismal 39 percent in their own house.
Toronto head coach Nick Nurse has obviously built a winning culture in the post-Dwane Casey era, as he was able to let guys like Matt Thomas and Terence Davis lead the way last night, instead of leaning on veterans like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet (nine points apiece) and sitting Kyle Lowry.
16 points – five rebounds – one assist – two steals
12 points – six rebounds – three assists – one steal – one block
13 points – two rebounds – one assist – one steal
11 points – four rebounds – two assists
11 points – five rebounds – two steals
11 points – two rebounds – one assist
The loss of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol has opened the door for newcomer Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher, who saw his share of success last season. Neither overwhelmed last night, but Boucher held his own for a pre-season game with nine points, four rebounds, two assists, a steal and three blocks.
Toronto at Charlotte – Monday, 7 p.m. EST
Oklahoma City Thunder 121
San Antonio Spurs 108
Rookie head coach Mark Daigneault came up through the ranks via the G League’s Oklahoma City Blue (and at the University of Florida). Many of the names littered on his roster are with either rookies from this year’s draft, or remnants of Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti’s trade deals, looking more like a G League roster.
Mesh that all together, and somewhere in an Oklahoma City suite, Presti is somewhere asking himself, ‘what the hell do I have to do to lose some basketball games?’
The Thunder surprised thousands last season, during their unashamed admission of rebuild, as Chris Paul became the mentor they envisioned him to be, and willed the Thunder into the playoffs, neck and neck with the star-studded Houston Rockets (including former Thunder stalwart Russell Westbrook) right up until the very end last year.
This off-season, they’re stripped down even more, with Paul in Phoenix, Steven Adams in New Orleans, and Dennis Schroder in L.A. If it weren’t obvious before, this is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s team, for better or for worse.
Except, last night, it was Theo Maledon’s team and Aleksej Pokusevski’s. Maldeon, the young man from ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne (yes, the team owned by former San Antonio Spur Tony Parker), led the Thunder’s assault on Parker’s old team and old coach last night in San Antonio. Pokusevski, a 7’ Serbian by way of Olympiacos, came off the bench to spell Mike Muscala, and made a name for himself last night.
As did seven of the Thunder’s first eight, as seven scored in double digits. Muscala finished with 18, Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson (over in the Adams trade) matched Pokusevski’s 14 points, Gilgeous-Alexander had 12 and George Hill finished with 11. Only Isaiah Roby, who came over after a year with the Texas Legends, finished with single digit scoring with eight, but he had 11 rebounds, two assists, three steals and a block in his Oklahoma City debut.
|Theo Maledon20 points – five rebounds – two assists||Patty Mills|
24 points – one assist
18 points – three rebounds – one assist
15 points – four rebounds – one assist – one steal
14 points – eight rebounds – two assists
14 points – six rebounds – two assists
Mind you, this is against a veteran coach in Gregg Popovich, and veteran Spurs players in Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay. DeMar DeRozan also finished with 12 points and seven assists.
San Antonio at Houston – Tuesday, 8 p.m. EST
Chicago at Oklahoma City – Wednesday, 8 p.m. EST
Dallas Mavericks 112
Milwaukee Bucks 102
I said Kristaps Porzingis would sit and it happened.
I also said, as recently as yesterday’s Lakers preview, that Giannis Antetokuonmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks have had the wind knocked out of their sails after two years of having the NBA’s best record with nothing more to show from it, and it appears I was right about that as well.
The Bucks have become that one-dimensional team that leans on Antetokuonmpo far too much and then lean on Khris Middleton in a far too predictable pecking order that it’s easy to shut Milwaukee down. And the Dallas Mavericks did it last night, without Porzingis, in Milwaukee.
Veteran Dallas journeymen stepped to the plate and put together a 59-43 second half performance that the Bucks couldn’t match, despite playing their star players 24 minutes apiece, while the Mavericks didn’t play a player more than 16 minutes.
13 points – seven rebounds
25 points – 10 rebounds – one assist – one steal
13 points – two rebounds – four assists
18 points – two rebounds – four assists – two steals – one block
10 points – two rebounds – four assists – one steal
|Bobby Portis 14 points – 13 rebounds – two assists|
Luka Doncic had to score only half of Antetokuonmpo’s output to get the win for the Mavericks, a team many expect to underperform this season due to the uncertainty of Porzingis being in the lineup for all 72 games (he will not be).
Milwaukee felt they were a star away and thought they had that in Bogdan Bogdanovic (who pulled a Billy Donovan on them, and ended up signing with the Atlanta Hawks). Bobby Portis isn’t that third guy for Milwaukee, though he did impress me more than Middleton and Antetokuonmpo did last night. One thing the kid has is heart, and that’s what the Bucks need if they’re going to be in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Last night was a step in the wrong direction.
Dallas at Milwaukee – Monday, 8 p.m. EST
Memphis Grizzlies 107
Minnesota Timberwolves 105
The reigning Rookie of the Year came out in his sophomore campaign with another Ja-dropping performance, leading the Memphis Grizzlies to a 107-105 win over the host Minnesota Timberwolves last night.
Not only was Ja Morant hitting at a .667 clip, but had 11 dimes on the night as well, as the Grizzlies built a 70-54 halftime lead that allowed them to cruise to the victory on the road. Veterans Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Anderson combined for 25 more points, and former TCU product Desmond Bane showed up with a dozen, while De’Anthony Melton kicked in 11 points.
The game’s leading scorer was Minnesota’s Jaylen Nowell, a 2019 draftee of the Timberwolves with last year’s 43rd pick out of the University of Washington, He outdid veterans like D’Angelo Russell (14) and Karl-Anthony Towns (13) in his 2020-21 debut with 22 points on 63.6 percent shooting off the deep bench. Malik Beasley had 12 and Jake Layman finished with 10, but it was Nowell’s night that opened some eyes.
20 points – four rebounds – 11 assists
22 points – one rebound
13 points – nine rebounds – one assist – one block
14 points – four rebounds – three assists – one steal
12 points – six rebounds
13 points – eight rebounds – three blocks
Ricky Rubio returned to Minnesota with nine points and five rebounds on the night. Notable names on the Memphis roster who sat last night were Brandon Clarke, Justise Winslow, and Jaren Jackson, Jr.
Memphis at Minnesota – Monday, 8 p.m. EST
Denver Nuggets 105
Golden State Warriors 107
It sure was nice to get a win for the Golden State Warriors. It had been a while. To have a veteran leader like … what? Kent Bazemore? … and a leader from last year’s scrub squad (Damion Lee) help lead the way, you might have expected that the Warriors would be on the short end of the stick at the end of the game, especially against the Denver Nuggets, right?
Nikola Jokic was on point for the Nuggets, who couldn’t overcome a 61-50 first half by the Warriors. With Klay Thompson out again this year, and Steph Curry only hitting his jersey number in shooting percentage (10 points), how did the Warriors pull this one off?
By the grit, determination, and teamwork they learned through the fire of adversity a season ago when Thompson was out, Curry was out, and Kevin Durant was out – in Brooklyn – but no longer in the Warriors’ locker room. Guys like Lee, Eric Paschall, and Kevon Looney stuck in there and learned lessons from all the losses.
Those guys stuck it out last night and outlasted the Denver Nuggets, whose only shining star was Jokic, and his 25 point, 10 rebound double double. Newcomer Kelly Oubre, Jr. impressed with 10 points, four rebounds, two assists, and three blocks in his Warriors debut. He said he loves playing for a team that cares about him – he keeps this up, the feeling will be more than mutual.
26 points – 10 rebounds – five assists – one steal
13 points – five rebounds
11 points – two rebounds – three assists – two steals
|Damion Lee12 points – two rebounds – one steal|
10 points – one assist
|Kelly Oubre, Jr.|
10 points – four rebounds – two assists – three blocks
Will Barton did not play, and highly rated draft pick R.J. Hampton only mustered four points in 12 minutes. Michael Porter, Paul Millsap, and Jamal Murray only combined for 19 points, not enough to even fill Jokic’s jock strap. They’ll say it’s only preseason, but with a shortened season, every win counts. So does every loss, at least mentally.
Golden State at Sacramento – Tuesday, 10 p.m. EST
Portland at Denver – Wednesday, 9 p.m. EST
Phoenix Suns 105
Utah Jazz 119
With all the hype around Chris Paul coming to save the Phoenix Suns, everyone – even members of our own media team – overlooked the Utah Jazz. Where is the love?
And who knew that Spiderman had a sidekick – I don’t remember that from the comics when I was a kid.
But it was Jordan Clarkson that led the Jazz and all scorers with a 19 point performance last night in front of the home crowd, shooting 50 percent from downtown and 46.7 from the field as the Jazz put a 62-51 deficit on the Suns by halftime, and then stuck a fork in Phoenix with a 32-22 finale in the fourth quarter to cement the win.
Nigel Williams-Goss, a kid from the area of Oregon where I grew up, has earned his piece with the Jazz, playing overseas with Partizan and Olympiacos before coming up through the Jazz’s G League system with the Salt Lake City Stars and knocking down 75 percent of his shots to aid in the win. Bojan Bogdanovic, who the Jazz could have used in the latter part of the season and in the post-season last year, seems healthy and knocked down 11 points. Donovan Mitchell had 12, and Georges Niang finished with 10 on the night.
17 points – one rebound
19 points – three rebounds
16 points – one rebound – six assists
15 points – two rebounds – one assist – two steals
14 points – one rebound
12 points – two rebounds – one assist – four steals
As for the Messiah, Paul, he did not play last night for the Suns. Neither did fellow free agent newcomer Jae Crowder. Instead, it was Langston Galloway – who labored in the Westchester Knicks/New York Knicks system to make his name – that led Phoenix last night with 17 points. Devin Booker had 16, and Mikal Bridges added 14. Galloway also labored in places like New Orleans, Sacramento, and Detroit before landing on his feet in the Valley. DeAndre Ayton finished with 11 and 14 in the loss.
Phoenix at Utah – Monday, 9 p.m. EST
Tracy Graven is the Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA, and done NBA radio, for the last two-plus decades for HoopsWorld, Swish Magazine, and HoopsHype, the Coach Scott Fields Show and NBARadioShow.com, and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and will be pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage.
He’s spent 20 years in locker rooms in
- Boise (G League)
- San Antonio
- Oklahoma City
A corporate trainer by day, he currently resides in SEC Country near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia