After a three-month break, the NBA kicked back into gear on Tuesday night for the beginning of the 2021-22 season. There was plenty of movement this offseason, as teams look to compete with juggernauts like the Nets, Bucks, and Lakers. Conversely, many teams stayed put, confident with their roster and their place in the NBA food chain. This season will be an exhilarating race to the finish—here are some winners and losers from Day One of the 82-game marathon.
Winner: Milwaukee Bucks, back like they never left
Just hours after receiving their championship rings on Tuesday night, the Bucks wrapped up a 23-point win over Brooklyn—the odds-on favorite to win it all this year. Milwaukee dominated as if to say, “We’re going back-to-back, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Giannis Antetokounmpo made a stellar all-around impact, dropping 32 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists on 12-for-25 shooting and 7-for-9 from the free throw line.
Of course, the Greek Freak wasn’t the only key contributor. Khris Middleton added a solid 20 points and 9 rebounds, while Jrue Holiday scored a quick 12 points in 18 minutes before leaving with a bruised heel. Even role players like Pat Connaughton (20 points) and Jordan Nwora (15 points) had nice shooting nights. Opening Night was both a showcase of the Bucks’ depth and a warning to the rest of the league: watch out for the reigning champs.
Loser: Brooklyn Nets, without their third star
Kevin Durant and James Harden tried their hardest to drag their teammates to victory, but it wasn’t enough against one of the NBA’s most complete rosters in the Bucks. The final score could’ve been much different had Kyrie Irving suited up, but that’s not in the cards for Brooklyn at the moment. The Nets’ closest losses this season will conjure reminders that they have a seven-time All-Star parked on their bench.
To be clear, the absence of Irving wasn’t the only factor that caused Brooklyn to lose by 23 points. Other than Patty Mills, their bench production was wildly disappointing. James Johnson, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Jevon Carter contributed two points in 56 combined minutes. These players are all new acquisitions, and they should only get more comfortable as the season progresses. But Tuesday night’s showing is not representative of a team expected to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Winner: Patty Mills, human flamethrower
The Bucks may have controlled the game for virtually the whole night, but Mills did everything in his power to keep Brooklyn in the fray. He tied the NBA record for most 3-pointers made in a debut with a new team (seven), and the Australian point guard was just one of two Nets to register a positive plus-minus.
Mills has always had a score-first mentality, and Brooklyn will need his quick trigger if they want a competitive bench. If Tuesday was any indication, the 33-year-old will play an integral role in the Nets’ offense and make a serious push for Sixth Man of the Year.
Loser: Russell Westbrook, disappointing in Lakers debut
Westbrook had a rough first game in the purple-and-gold, managing just 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers on 4-for-13 shooting. The Long Beach native stuck out as the weak link, while fellow centerpieces LeBron James and Anthony Davis scored 34 and 33 points respectively. The Lakers very well could have topped Steph Curry and the Warriors had Westbrook made better in-game decisions.
Many expressed concern after the Lakers traded for Westbrook that he would only exacerbate the spacing issues they struggled with last season. He’s an abysmal 3-point shooter—out of all NBA players with 3,000 career attempts from deep, Westbrook has shot the worst (30.5 percent). Yet Los Angeles is expecting him to man their offense. His minutes without James and Davis on the court will likely be more harmful than helpful—that’s not what the Lakers want out of their prized offseason acquisition.
Winner: Warriors’ supporting cast, doing it all
Unlike last year, it wasn’t Steph Curry doing all of the heavy lifting in Golden State’s first game of the 2021-22 season. He may have led the team in scoring on Tuesday (21 points), but it came on a putrid 5-for-21 shooting from the field. Curry’s teammates picked him up—from the starting lineup to the bench, their efforts were enough to take down the headline-grabbing Lakers.
The young Jordan Poole was arguably the most impressive Warrior on the floor, adding 20 points on 8-for-18 shooting. He’ll fill some big shoes until Klay Thompson can make his return this winter. But it was Nemanja Bjelica who had the best night overall, notching 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists and registering a team-high +20 plus-minus. The Warriors expect to compete in the playoffs, and contribution from sources other than Curry will be crucial in order to do so.