“I was actually surprised the first shot was that wide open,” Anthony said. “Just happy it went in, got that first shot out of the way and was able to focus on the rest of the game.”
Then he missed his next seven shots. But like the rest of the Thunder, it was a slow burn as Anthony revved up in the second quarter and into the third, scoring 22 on 8-of-20 shooting in a 105-84 win over the New York Knicks on opening night.
For Anthony, playing the Knicks was an ideal way for him to move on and find some closure from his messy, chaotic departure from New York.
“Yeah, that chapter’s closed. That chapter’s closed. No more Knicks talk,” Anthony said. “We can just focus on the Thunder and moving forward and what we have to do as a team and organization. I can say that chapter’s closed.”
The next chapter is an invigorating one for Anthony, joining All-Stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook, who both showcased their firepower as the Thunder broke lose of the overmatched Knicks, relying on a suffocating defense that forced 26 turnovers.
George finished with 28 on 9-of-23 shooting, hitting six 3-pointers, while Westbrook picked up where he left off in his historic MVP season notching the first triple-double of this season with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists.
“You guys are used to it. I’m used to watching it. I’m used to going up against it. To now be on the other side of that, be on the same team and reap those benefits of what he brings to the game, I’m excited about what we started out tonight, what we created tonight and where we’re headed.”
Westbrook spent last season running the Thunder virtually single-handily, compiling the highest usage rate in NBA history and leading the team in all three major categories (points, rebounds and assists). Something coach Billy Donovan has repeated throughout training camp is Westbrook’s ability to adapt and adjust his game for the betterment of the team, which, as Donovan noted, was on display against the Knicks.
“There’s nobody that can stay in front of Russ,” George said. “He’s always going to attract two [defenders], he’s always going to have the defense collapsing. A lot of times I’m going to be catching it wide open and more times than not I’ve got to make them pay for it.”
It was noticeable, especially in the first half, that Westbrook was intent on making plays for George and Anthony, putting his own attempts aside. Westbrook was steady and controlled commanding the Thunder’s attack, picking his spots and at times even looking, gasp, passive. Last season, Westbrook led the Thunder in shot attempts 78 times in 81 appearances. On Thursday, George and Anthony attempted 11 and 8 more shots than Westbrook, respectively.
“We’re just getting started,” Westbrook said. “We’re trying to figure it out and I’m just going to constantly keep pushing and finding those guys and obviously that makes it easy for me with those guys on the floor.”
The Thunder’s offense lacked some flow during portions of the game, with some my-turn, your-turn elements creeping in for the three stars. But it was also a case of missed shots, as George and Anthony both misfired on a number of clean looks, particularly in the first half.
“Offensively it’s on us to make those shots. I think for myself, if I can speak for PG, we’ve got to get used to those shots,” Anthony said. “We’re not used to having open looks like that, being wide open for shots like that. We’ve got to get comfortable with that and those shots. Those shots will fall.”
Westbrook cautioned during training camp of overreacting to some ragged offense early in the season, but balance does appear to be something to keep an eye on. In the first half, Westbrook, George and Anthony combined for 44 of the Thunder’s 53 points, and attempted 35 of their 44 total shots. The second half featured a bit more flow as three attempted 20 of their 56.
“I thought we played offensively in terms of just [being] more fluid in the second half,” Billy Donovan said. “But the biggest thing for us was our defense.”
The Thunder, who talked throughout the preseason of their goal to be the top defensive team in the league, suffocated the young Knicks and forced 26 turnovers, including 14 steals. They pushed their lead to 11 right before half as George beat the buzzer on a dunk following a steal by Andre Roberson and carried that boost into the third, swarming the Knicks and methodically building a lead to as much as 23.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on, our defense leading to our offense and holding teams under 100 points,” Roberson said. “Like we talked about all preseason long, trying to be the No. 1 defensive team.”
For the three Thunder stars, the first time out went mostly according to plan. Westbrook was dynamic, George and Anthony got plenty of clean looks, and the defense was athletic and smothering, anchored by Roberson and Steven Adams. It’s only one of 82, but with Anthony playing the Knicks and the debut of the new Thunder, the arena thumped with energy as OKC flashed a glimpse of its firepower.
“Oh man, it was crazy,” George said of the atmosphere. “I thought the first preseason game here was nuts. I thought that’s what ‘Loud City’ was, but obviously it can get louder. I’m looking forward to it, the next 41 of these. And then, when we get in the playoffs.”
After the Clippers routed the Los Angeles Lakers 108-92 and held Ball to three points, four assists and nine rebounds in his debut, Beverley was heard screaming, “weak ass m—–f—–. Bring him out on the court with me and I will tear his ass up,” as he walked off the court and into the locker room.
“Yeah, you shut the m—–f—– down,” LaVar Ball told ESPN after the game. “And your check still ain’t going to go no higher than what it is. Yeah, you shut him down. OK … Who is Patrick Beverley? He played all last year and nobody said nothing about him. Now we are looking at your first game. Why? Because Lonzo’s name is attached to it.
“So you got to be [all hard],” Ball added as he slapped his fists together. “Let’s see what you do the next five games, if you are going to be pumped up towards everybody like that and go back to your 0-for-5 shooting and your two or three rebounds. Nobody is going to care about you. But you put my son’s name in it and you put my name in it, now you got some action and you got some people talking.”
Told that Beverley didn’t say Lonzo Ball’s name when he screamed on his way into the locker room, LaVar Ball said it didn’t matter. He said Beverley tried staring him down in his courtside seats near the Clippers bench during the fourth quarter.
“You ain’t got to say it by name because I saw the way he looked at me when he was on the side of the bench,” he said. “He was going to see if I can get eye contact. I just looked at him like I looked right past him because he’s nobody. You talking to Big Baller.
“One game. OK, you still don’t have your own shoe, you are still not your own boss,” he continued. “I know why you are looking at me. And you want to tell me that I got your son! Well I got two more you can try to get some of, too. They will be here, don’t worry about it. I don’t worry about one game.”
The Lonzo Ball era began with the rookie point guard struggling with his shot and missing 5 of 6 shots. Beverley, as he likes to do, picked up the rookie well past halfcourt many times. The Lakers expected and warned Ball that Beverley would test the rookie, who might have been surrounded by more hype than any other rookie.
“Look, I can’t even imagine being him right now,” team president Magic Johnson said of Ball and all the attention surrounding him before the game. “Being an L.A. kid, this has got to be crazy. Always wanted to play for the Lakers and he gets his first game tonight? Wow. … Now it is for real now. It is no exhibition. This is real.
“[And] he is up against a tough dude, that is what I am telling him, Patrick Beverley is no joke,” Johnson added. “He is one of the best defenders that we have and he is also one of the best at playing mind games, too. Once he’s got you, mentally he attacks you. He is almost like Draymond [Green], they talk to you. So he has to be really ready and stay strong and stay into his game. He is going up against a pro that really knows how to play.”
At one point, Beverley shoved Ball down at halfcourt and drew a foul in the first half. The rookie got Beverley with a nice crossover at one point when Beverley went for a steal and whiffed. But later in the game, Beverley stripped Ball clean near halfcourt for a layup. Beverley finished with 10 points and two steals while Ball had two turnovers.
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said after the game. “I told him after the game due to all the riff raff that his dad brings that he is going to get a lot of people coming at him. He has to be ready for that, and I let him know after the game. But what a better way to start than 94 feet guarding him.”
Ball said he liked the shots he got but couldn’t make them. Ball tried to impact the game in other ways by hitting the glass often for rebounds. He blocked Blake Griffin from behind on one play and had one stretch in the third quarter when he looked more comfortable by dishing three assists.
Ball, who was held out of the fourth quarter with the game out of hand, didn’t have any problem with the way Beverley played him.
“[Beverley] plays hard, he knows his job, he does it very well,” said Ball, who estimated he had at least 40 friends and family at the game. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
“We got blown out so I didn’t play too well.”
After the game, LaVar Ball huddled with his son as they do after every game to go over what happened and how the point guard can improve. Lonzo Ball getting off to a slow start is not something new. The rookie struggled in his Las Vegas summer league debut before leading the Lakers to a summer league championship and becoming the MVP.
“Beverley is going to test [people],” LaVar Ball said. “He didn’t do nothing. But it is a better story. Lonzo don’t even care about Beverley. You never care about Lonzo versus Westbrook, Lonzo versus Harden, Lonzo versus Beverley. Who cares? It is a team game.”
CHICAGO — It hasn’t been 108 years since the Los Angeles Dodgers have won a World Series, but they are one step closer to erasing their own drought. After knocking out the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series with an 11-1 victory at Wrigley Field on Thursday, the Dodgers are back in the World Series for the first time since 1988, when Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson led the team to a dramatic upset of the Oakland A’s.
This is the Dodgers’ 11th postseason appearance since then, and their stretch of 10 appearances in a row without a title is an MLB record. That history has been punctuated by four previous losses in the NLCS, including last season when the Cubs beat them in six games, a defeat that prompted ace starter Clayton Kershaw to admit the Cubs were “just the better team.”
This year was different. Kershaw was once again on the mound for the Dodgers, but this time trying to pitch his team into the World Series instead of facing elimination. In his five previous NLCS starts dating to 2013, the Dodgers had been shut out three times and scored only six runs — three of those coming in Game 1 of this series after Kershaw was knocked out.
In this game, the Dodgers scored early and often. Super-sub Enrique Hernandez was the offensive hero, with a solo home run to left-center off Jose Quintana in the top of the second inning and then an opposite-field grand slam to right-center off reliever Hector Rondon in the third that gave the Dodgers a 7-0 lead. Hernandez added a two-run homer in the ninth, ending the night 3-for-4 with seven RBIs.
Kershaw did his part as well, throwing six innings to earn the win. He gave up one run, on a solo homer by Kris Bryant, and three hits. He struck out five and walked one.
Just a few weeks ago, it was difficult to envision the Dodgers going 7-1 in eight postseason games. After a torrid 56-11 run put them on pace to challenge the MLB record for wins in a season, they inexplicably lost 16 of 17 from late August through mid-September, a stretch of ineptitude no playoff team had ever endured. The Dodgers recovered to finish with 104 wins, most in the majors and most for the franchise since it moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
“We learned that we could get through something like that and come out on the other side,” manager Dave Roberts said before Game 4. “It was also encouraging to see that guys continued to stay the course as far as the preparation. There wasn’t any finger-pointing. We still banded together and stayed focused on winning baseball games.”
The Dodgers eliminated the Cubs even though All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, the team’s No. 2 hitter, missed the series because of a sore back. Roster depth has been key to the team’s success all season. In Seager’s absence, Charlie Culberson — who started only one game at shortstop all season — started the first two games and Game 5, and Chris Taylor, who had become the team’s starting center fielder, took over in Games 3 and 4. Hernandez, a right-handed hitter, has started games at seven positions this season and was in the starting lineup with the lefty Quintana starting.
Taylor and Justin Turner were named co-MVPs of the NLCS.
CLEVELAND — Celtics forward Gordon Hayward was stretchered off the floor at Quicken Loans Arena after suffering a horrific-looking leg injury a little more than five minutes into his Boston debut Tuesday night.
Hayward’s left leg bent awkwardly after he went up for an alley-oop pass, collided with LeBron James and collapsed under the basket with 6 minutes, 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
Players initially kept their distance as doctors tended to Hayward. Teammates and Cavaliers players, including James, then checked on Hayward as he was being stretchered from the court.
After the game — a 102-99 Celtics loss — Boston coach Brad Stevens said Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia. The team announced the injury as a fractured left ankle. Hayward was set to fly back with the Celtics to Boston on Tuesday night and go straight to New England Baptist Hospital after landing. According to ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, Hayward will have surgery Wednesday.
“You hurt for him. He’s put in a lot of great work. And I thought he had his most comfortable week as far as feeling like he was going to play really well,” Stevens said. “But now we’ll hopefully get a full recovery, right? And so it’s a tough deal, but I guess that’s part of it, the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”
Hayward’s left ankle turned at such an odd angle that teammates stood in shock as he motioned for help from the sideline.
Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade knelt with his hand on his head nearby, as team doctors worked on Hayward. Shellshocked Celtics players huddled, with Kyrie Irving burying his head in the chests of teammates Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum.
Fans gave Hayward a standing ovation as he was taken from the court with his entire left leg immobilized in an air cast. Sources told ESPN that Hayward’s ankle was reset on the floor, which reduced his pain and stabilized him.
He was immediately taken to the Cavaliers’ locker room for more evaluation.
Numerous doctors and Cavaliers and Celtics officials were with Hayward in the Cleveland locker room, where he received X-rays. Many were ashen as they left, including Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman.
Isaiah Thomas, who recruited Hayward to Boston this summer, was in the locker room with him for an extended period before returning to the bench.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who recruited Hayward to Cleveland as a free agent in 2014, also visited him.
The Celtics trailed by 16 at the half but rallied in the third quarter.
As far as what the coach told his team at halftime about focusing on basketball after the injury, Stevens said, “I don’t have any magic words for that. You’re all hurting for him. I’m not going to try to take the human element out of it.”
Players across the league immediately reacted on social media to the injury, including Paul George, who broke his leg in a gruesome injury in 2014.
“It was terrifying,” said Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team was readying for its season opener against the Houston Rockets. “The whole coaches’ office was just devastated watching it. It just shows the fragile nature of what we do.”
Hayward signed a four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics in July, making him the first of two All-Stars that they acquired this summer. Boston later picked up Irving in a trade with the Cavs.
Hayward’s arrival in Boston reunited him with his former Butler coach Brad Stevens.
The Celtics play their home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
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