Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.
Every night in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, like a good Star Wars movie (so not “Phantom Menace”). Every morning we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. That starts with a wild opening night.
1) Celtics season turned upside down with traumatic Gordon Hayward injury. Just 5:15 into his first game as a Celtic, Gordon Hayward suffered as gruesome an injury as you will see on the basketball court — he landed awkwardly on an alley-oop attempt and his ankle was caught under him, ultimately twisting sideways in a way the foot was not meant to do. He suffered a dislocated ankle and a fractured tibia and was instantly flown back to Boston for more evaluation and eventual surgery on the foot. The good news is there seems to be no major ligament tears or broken blood vessels.
There is no timeline yet on his recovery, and while some reports out of Boston suggested a sixth-month (or fewer) window that could have him back for the playoffs, that seems optimistic. We don’t know what the doctors will decide, but the Celtics and their Big Kahuna Danny Ainge have always thought long term, about contending not this season but in future ones, and they are not going to rush Hayward back for this postseason. I wish him the best in his recovery, but I’d be surprised to see him this year.
With Hawyard down, the Celtics fought back in the second half Tuesday to make it a game against the Cavaliers, ultimately falling 102-99 (LeBron James had 29 points, 16 rebounds, 9 assists). What we saw in that game was likely what we will see a lot more of this season, a Celtics team that plays a lot like last season’s Celtics just with Kyrie Irving in the Isaiah Thomas role. Irving is going to have a heavy scoring load (22 points in this one) plus be the primary shot creator for others. He doesn’t have a good secondary playmaking option now. Irving’s teammates stepped up in this one, starting with Jaylen Brown who led the Celtics with 25 points.
Celtics’ rookie Jayson Tatum had 14 all in the second half (he got the start with Marcus Smart still injured). Marcus Smart stepped up some off the bench but was 0-of-4 from three, and as a team the Celtics were 8-of-32 from three (25 percent). This team is still going to take a lot of threes for Brad Stevens, but they are going to make a lot fewer of them now (the nights those shots fall they will be dangerous, the nights they don’t they can lose to anyone). Bottom line: Kyrie Irving can create shots but will the other players knock those shots down consistently? I had this team as a low 50s win squad, this injury probably drops now by five games (at least). They will miss Hayward on both ends of the court.
2) Draymond Green leaves game and Warriors stumble without him, falling to Rockets. Golden State was already without Andre Iguodala, who sat the opener out with back issues, then in the third quarter and with the Warriors consistently holding a lead Draymond Green tweaked his knee coming down on a shot. He was diagnosed with a knee strain, and while it’s not serious — he was not on crutches after the game and is not going to miss much time — he did not return in the fourth quarter of this game.
Without him the Rockets surged — they outscored the Warriors 34-20 in the fourth, they made plays down the stretch, and ultimately beat the Warriors 122-121.James Harden had 27 points and 10 assists, and he was making plays down the stretch, but the Rockets got a strong fourth quarter from Eric Gordon and Luc Mbah a Moute as well, each scoring seven points. The Rockets could not get stops, but they could score with the Warriors and that’s what they did.
Of note for the Rockets, Chris Paul sat the final 4:30 of the game, he has been battling knee issues and wasn’t himself. Don’t be shocked if Mike D’Antoni gives him more time off.
For the Warriors, they got blown out by 29 last season on opening night (San Antonio), they are not going to read much into this loss (nor should they, but 82-0 is dead). What this does show is how much Green means to the team, he’s not their best player but may be their most important. It also shows how, once again, the teams that come back from the NBA’s annual excursion to China take a while to get their legs fully under them again.
3) The Bulls can’t even wait until the regular season to have things go very, very wrong. This was already going to be a long season for Bulls fans. Yes, Chicago made a good move by ultimately committing to a plan and going all-in on a rebuild, but that doesn’t make the process pretty. The Bulls were going to lose a lot of games and probably be the worst team in the NBA. But they couldn’t wait until Thursday when the season starts for things to go wrong.
Bobby Portissucker punchedNikola Mirotic, dropping the just re-signed player to the floor with a broken upper jaw and a concussion. According to multiple reports, this started out as a battle for position under the glass during a scrimmage, and that turned into a shoving match — nothing uncommon here so far, those happen all the time on teams. But after the players were separated Portis threw the cheap-shot punch and changed the start of the Bulls season. There are some reports Mirotic lunged at Portis before the punch and this was not a cheap shot, it depends on who you talk to. Not that it matters. The Bulls will likely treat it as one.
Mirotic will be out “weeks” I’ve been told. Portis might have been in line for the starting spot with Mirotic out but not now, he will be punished by the team, likely with a lengthy suspension. This will mean even more minutes for rookie Lauri Markkanen in Chicago.
Draymond Green goes down, Rockets rally to spoil Warriors ring night 122-121
Draymond Green is not the best player on the Warriors. He’s third or fourth best, depending on what you think of him vs. Klay Thompson.
But Draymond Green is the most important Warrior — what they do defensively does not work without him (and their small ball playmaking suffers as well). Without him, the Warriors are not the same.
That was on full display Tuesday night in the season opener — the night the Warriors got their 31-diamond rings and the latest banner went up at Oracle Arena. Green tweaked his knee in the third quarter landing off a shot and did not play in the fourth, and that’s when the Rockets outscored the Warriors 34-20 to come from behind and steal a win, 122-121.
Green was diagnosed with a “knee strain” and was walking around after the game without a cast/boot/crutches, although with a slight limp according to reports. He said this is nothing serious, although don’t be shocked if the Warriors give him another game or two off to rest it.
Kevin Durant almost saved the day for Golden State with a baseline jumper as time expired — the referees called it good, but an official review showed the ball was still in his hands when the buzzer went off.
What should not be undersold in this game is how well the Warriors played. They showed a lot of potential and depth — the P.J. Tucker at center lineups were fantastic — and they got key contributions from stars and role players.
James Harden had 27 points and 10 assists to lead the Rockets. However, the real story was their revamped bench outplaying the Golden State bench — Eric Gordon looked like the sixth man of the year with 24 points, P.J. Tucker had 20 and shot 4-of-6 from three, and Luc Mbah a Moute added 14. Mike D’Antoni treated it like a playoff game (an eight-man rotation) but they were playing for a confidence boost that they can compete with Golden State.
The Rockets made their final push with Chris Paul sitting on the bench. CP3 sat the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game, and the Rockets thrived with Gordon, Harden and an old-school (meaning, like last season) offense. After the game, coach Mike D’Antoni said that Paul was out there “playing on one leg” due to his knee problem, and Paul could miss more time.
Golden State was also without Andre Iguodala, who tweaked his back lifting weights over the weekend, according to coach Steve Kerr. Not having Green or Iguodala hurt the Warriors defense, especially against an elite offensive team.
Surprisingly, Nick Young led the Warriors with 23 points off the bench, hitting 6-of-7 from three. Stephen Curry added in 22, Kevin Durant scored 20 and Klay Thompson 16. However, in the fourth quarter the Warriors big three of Durant, Curry, and Thompson were 5-of-14 from the floor and 2-of-7 from three. Curry could not find the range.
Last season the Spurs blew the Warriors out by 29 on opening night, and the Warriors bounced back to win 67 games and the NBA title. Nobody should read too much into an opening night win. But for a Rockets team with dreams of challenging these Warriors in May, this is a good confidence boost to start the season.
Kevin Durant’s game winner waived off, he didn’t get shot off in time
Down one with 10 seconds to go, the Warriors were able to get Stephen Curry a good look at a three but he missed it. The ball was volleyballed around a little, and Durant got a hold of it and took a 15-footer along the baseline that the referees on the court ruled a game-winner — but when reviewed it left his hand a fraction of a second too late.
It was the right call. And this is a big boost for the Rockets as they try to find their identity going into a long season.
Draymond Green: Everybody panicking, knows they don’t have a chance against Warriors
Ten days after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers to win his second NBA title, 27-year-old Draymond Green still has some shit to talk. He’s in the brick-walled New York offices of Maverick Carter, LeBron James’ longtime business partner, here to film a promo video for a celebrity soccer game in which he’ll coach a team opposite Drake.
“They didn’t stand a fucking chance,” he says of the Cavs, who lost in five games. “It pissed me off we didn’t sweep them, though.”
Hours after I talk to Green, the Bulls will trade Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Six days later, Chris Paul will join James Harden in Houston. The rest of the summer plays out like a very athletic game of Red Rover: Paul George and Melo head to Oklahoma City; Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward join the Boston Celtics; Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade link up with LeBron in Cleveland. Eight marquee players—who have combined for forty-five total all-star selections—switch homes, the very landscape of the league changing in the shadow of the growing juggernaut in the Bay Area.
And, here in Tribeca, before any of it happens, Draymond Green knows it’s coming.
“It’s so funny sitting back and watching this shit,” he starts, before pausing to pull his phone out of his jeans, looking through the Golden State Warriors’ group chat. (The team has one, and the Hampton Five—Green, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Kevin Durant, the five guys that were in the Hamptons in the summer of 2016 to recruit KD—has another.) He wants to relay something that Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey had said in an interview, reacting to the Warriors’ title. The team had texted it to each other: “They are not unbeatable. There have been bigger upsets in sports history. We are going to keep improving our roster. We are used to long odds. If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve.”
Then he pauses, scoffing at Morey’s comments.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” he says to me. “They are really trying to rethink their whole strategy”—here he bumps a table repeatedly with his hand for emphasis, getting excited—“because teams know they don’t have a fucking clue.”
On a roll now, he remembers the Warriors’ lone playoff loss, in Game 4 of the Finals, when the Cavs sank twenty-four three-pointers, an NBA Finals record.
“That’d never been done!” Green exclaims. “They don’t come out and hit twenty-four threes and they’re swept. And that’s the second best team in the world. It’s pretty fucking sick to see how everybody is just in a fucking panic about what to do. You sit back and think, like, these motherfuckers, they know. That’s the fun part about it: They know they don’t stand a chance.”
Post-title gloat aside, Green is not about to do what LeBron did seven years ago, after his talents arrived in South Beach to join Chris Bosh, D-Wade, and set this NBA arms race into motion. He’s not going to say that he and his super bros won’t be happy with just one ring (or four, or five, or six).
“At the end of the day, it’s hard as hell to win a championship,” says Green. “To say, ‘Yeah, if we don’t do this, we failed?’ No the fuck [we] didn’t. We won a championship. We are champions forever. If I never win another championship, I will forever be called: Draymond Green, NBA fucking champion.”
The Warriors have an odd problem: They want to gloat about their dominance, but everyone accepts their inevitability – and blames them for it! Since signing Kevin Durant, Golden State is treated like an invincible villain.
I argued assuming the Warriors would win last year’s title was ignoring history. Overwhelming favorites tend not to live up to the hype. Winning a champion is hard as hell. But the way Golden State dominated, those pleas – even if they were correct – will fall on deaf ears.
So, Green is trying to play both sides – bragging about winning a league that everyone believes is stacked in the Warriors’ favor. If he figures out how to do that, I’ll truly be impressed by his gabbing ability.