Russell Westbrook begins MVP defense with a triple-double for retooled Thunder
The New York Knicks, expected to own the NBA’s worst defense this season, kept their season opener surprisingly close for a while, but the Oklahoma City Thunder’s new big three eventually overwhelmed the visitors in an impressive national television debut at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday night.
Following an MVP campaign in which he set the record for triple-doubles and became the second player to average one for a full season, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook began 2017-18 with another one, collecting 21 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds in a 105-84 victory against the Knicks.
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In the process, Westbrook temporarily silenced concerns that he could not alter his game from the singular supernova style he played with throughout last season, deferring to new All-Star teammates Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. The game started with an assist from Westbrook to Anthony for a wide-open 3-pointer, and the trio combined for 71 points — highlighted by 22 from Anthony, who exacted some revenge in his first game against his former team following an offseason trade.
Melo sported a custom-made hoodie on the bench to keep him warm with the game on ice:
Melo’s got the hoodie on. pic.twitter.com/YAvq7XWCCE
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) October 20, 2017
The Thunder triumvirate needed little help disposing of the Knicks, and it’s a good thing, because Anthony and George combined for 43 of the team’s 90 field goal attempts, shooting 40 percent as a tandem. Oklahoma City center Steven Adams was his usual pick-and-rolling, paint-disrupting, self, adding 12 points (on 5-for-5 shooting), five rebounds, five steals and three blocks. Beyond that quartet, though, the Thunder got just 16 points from the bench, most of which came in garbage time.
Despite the lopsided win, the Thunder weren’t especially sharp, missing plenty of open shots, and it’s hard to tell whether they’re already the elite team we expect them to be by season’s end, especially given their opponent on opening night.
Melo on the offense: "I don't wanna speak for PG, but we've gotta get used to those shots. We're not used to getting open looks like that."
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) October 20, 2017
Still, with three remarkably talented scorers able to create shots for themselves and each other, the explosive nature of this offense is immediately apparent.
"It felt good to get out here and start this new journey… close that chapter." – @carmeloanthony after his @okcthunder debut pic.twitter.com/4PEATyAx4z
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) October 20, 2017
Kristaps Porzingis was the lone bright spot for the Knicks, amassing 31 points and 12 rebounds in his first game without Anthony at the helm of New York’s offense. He almost singlehandedly kept the Knicks in the game well into the second quarter, tying the game at 40 with four minutes to play before the break. But the Thunder closed on a 13-2 run, capped by a George dunk to beat the halftime buzzer:
Paul George with the buzzer-beating dunk to end the first half
(via @clippittv) pic.twitter.com/eFw2CnXp1h
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) October 20, 2017
Tim Hardaway Jr., who the Knicks signed to a four-year, $71 million deal in July, scored just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting in his debut. He also caught a second-half elbow to the face from George. New York also lost new addition Michael Beasley to a sprained left ankle 36 seconds into his night.
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Enes Kanter, who was traded along with Doug McDermott to the Knicks in the Anthony deal, scored 10 points in his return to Oklahoma City. A day after saying, “I saw this state like my family,” Kanter received a healthy ovation from the Thunder faithful. Kanter was the only other Knicks player besides Porzingis in double figures. New York shot 40 percent as a team and trailed the entire second half.
Here's the big ovation for Enes Kanter in starting lineups: pic.twitter.com/o3nHxn3Knc
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) October 20, 2017
In the end, it wasn’t so much the defense that was abysmal for the Knicks — they held the Thunder to 43 percent shooting (29 percent from 3-point range) — but an offense that struggled to create anything outside of Porzingis using his 7-foot-3 frame to shoot over the top of opponents. It’s only Game 1 of 82 for both teams, but we got what we expected from the Knicks and Thunder on Thursday.
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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach