Sunday night's NBA action was all about making a statement.
Granted, it's not easy to send a powerful signal to the rest of the league with nearly three quarters of the NBA season still unplayed. But we've come far enough to see clear narratives develop. Reputations are already solidifying; patterns are becoming irreversible trends.
So when Rudy Gay gave an A-plus effort to endear himself to his (new) home fans, and Damian Lillard put the exclamation point on a very out-of-character win by the Portland Trail Blazers, they weren't just isolated incidents.
They were declarations that screamed, "We're more than you thought we were!"
Elsewhere, Andrew Bogut refused to step up, the Denver Nuggets responded to some choice words from Brian Shaw and the Oklahoma City Thunder let everyone know about the value of a true home-court advantage.
Sunday's six-game slate went a long way toward isolating the players and teams willing to stand up and be heard.
Rudy Gay went into his first home game as a member of the Sacramento Kings hoping for a fresh start. After watching his reputation circle the drain in Toronto, it made sense that he'd want to make a solid first impression in Sacramento.
A 14-point first quarter was a pretty good way to do that.
Gay hit five of his eight field-goal attempts in the first period of the Kings' 106-91 win over the Houston Rockets. He moved well without the ball, played with a refreshing urgency and finished around the rim. Basically, he did the complete opposite of what he'd spent the first six weeks of the season doing for the Toronto Raptors.
He finished with 26 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals on 10-of-20 shooting. And although he did slip back into some of his bothersome habits—taking contested jumpers off the dribble and stopping the ball on the perimeter—Gay's overall performance had to have been very encouraging for the Kings.
And the fact that Gay's solid night didn't take anything away from DeMarcus Cousins (21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) or Isaiah Thomas (19 points and eight assists on 7-of-12 shooting) might be the most positive takeaway of all.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Gay did all he could to endear himself to his new home fans on Sunday.
Everyone will be talking about Damian Lillard's game-winning jumper, and rightfully so.
The Portland Trail Blazers point guard drilled a 14-foot leaner with just one-tenth of a second remaining in overtime to sink the Detroit Pistons by a final score of 111-109. It was a a remarkable shot—made all the more impressive by the fact that the man taking it had hit just five of his previous 20 attempts.
As is always the case, highlights like Lillard's game-winner will get most of the attention.
But what the Blazers did in the fourth quarter had as much to do with their gritty victory as the second-year stud's big shot.
Despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back set, Portland dug deep in the final period, holding the Pistons to just 15 points. LaMarcus Aldridge sent away a couple of Greg Monroe's attempts at close range, Lillard picked up a few floor burns diving for loose balls and Wesley Matthews did his best to clamp down on Rodney Stuckey.
It was a phenomenal effort, one that took every ounce of energy the Blazers had.
Per Chris Haynes of Comcast Sportsnet Northwest, Aldridge was running on fumes:
LaMarcus Aldridge says he was tired coming to game. Says if there was one more defensive possession in that game, he would have passed out.
The Blazers have struggled to get stops all season, ranking just 19th in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com. But against the Pistons, Portland showed the kind of heart and toughness it'll need to make any real noise down the stretch this season.
Lillard's big bucket was obviously critical. But the Blazers would never have made it to overtime in the first place were it not for some out-of-character stopping power.
The Minnesota Timberwolves took care of the Memphis Grizzlies for the first time in 12 tries, riding a skillful start from Kevin Love and a bruising finish from Nikola Pekovic to a 101-93 win.
Love scored 19 of his 30 points in the first half, giving the Wolves an early cushion that would come in handy when the Grizzlies fought back after the break. As Memphis continually threatened to catch up, it was Pekovic who put the game away.
With Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos doing their best to contain the hulking Timberwolves big man, Pekovic bullied his way to a dozen fourth-quarter points. He totally overpowered Memphis' interior defense, drawing shooting fouls on two straight possessions in the final two minutes.
Pekovic finished with 19 points on the night.
Minnesota will always depend on Love for the bulk of its offense, but if Kevin Martin has many more nights like the one he had against the Grizzlies (0-of-3 in 19 minutes), Pekovic will only become a bigger part of the team's attack.
Based on how he manhandled every Memphis player who came near him, that might not be such a bad thing.
Oh, and Pek also registered the most delightful postgame photobomb in recorded history. So, basically, the big man did it all.
Thanks to 28 points from Kevin Durant and yet another double-double from Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder held off a late charge from the Orlando Magic. The 101-98 victory gave OKC its 12th consecutive home win to start the season.
Only the Indiana Pacers (11-0) boast a similarly unblemished mark on their home floor.
Based on their terrific record at Chesapeake Energy Arena, it's understandable that the Thunder got a little overconfident down the stretch. After outscoring the Magic in each of the game's first three quarters, OKC allowed Orlando to come surging back in the final stanza.
After a replay review turned a goaltending call against Serge Ibaka into a jump ball at center court, the Magic actually had a chance to tie things up. But in the time it took Tobias Harris to secure the tip, the clock expired, preventing an errant desperation heave from counting—even if it had gone in.
Don't look now, but the Thunder are at a tidy 19-4 on the year. That record should put to rest all of the concerns about bench depth, Westbrook's surgically repaired knee and the lack of a quality center. OKC is rolling along, thanks to an unbeaten home streak that looks like it might never end.
If you were looking for a way to explain the Golden State Warriors' 106-102 loss to the Phoenix Suns, it would probably be wise to focus on the 20 turnovers that helped give Eric Bledsoe and Co. so many extra possessions.
Giveaways have been a serious issue for the Dubs all season, and pinning their defeat on careless ball-handling would be a defensible position.
But there's something else going on with the Warriors offense that is at once eerily familiar and somewhat unexpected: Andrew Bogut is hiding from the basketball.
To be fair, he's not completely terrified of the rock in the same way Andris Biedrins once was. But Bogut's complete unwillingness to attack the defense in the pick-and-roll has Golden State fans seeing shades of Biedrins they had very much hoped were buried forever.
There's little mystery behind Bogut's desperate search for a way to get rid of the ball whenever he touches it: He hit 1-of-6 from the foul line against Phoenix and is now shooting under 40 percent for the season.
He doesn't want to shoot free throws.
Mike Prada of SB Nation tweeted:
Bogut not even looking to score. He plays hot potato when he catches the ball on a pick and roll.
Bogut is a naturally unselfish player who has always preferred to pass. But defenses force the ball out of Stephen Curry's hands at the top of the circle with aggressive traps, daring him to find the rolling big man in the lane. When Curry hits Bogut, the Aussie immediately looks to redistribute, hardly glancing at the rim and almost never thinking about attacking.
Many of the Warriors' offensive struggles will disappear when Andre Iguodala comes back. And to be fair, Bogut is a fantastic defensive player. But if he's not going to present any semblance of an offensive threat, the Dubs are going to struggle against smarter defenses all season long.
It cost them against a very sharp Suns team.
According to Christopher Dempsey of the The Denver Post, Denver Nuggets Head coach Brian Shaw was fed up with his team's recent effort level, particularly at the start of games:
"I put everybody on alert," Shaw said. "I challenged Ty (Lawson) as a leader, whether he wants to accept that responsibility or not. I challenged Kenneth and J.J. and just the starters in general that they have to start games (well)."
The Nuggets didn't exactly come out with guns blazing against the New Orleans Pelicans, but they found enough of a spark to get the job done. Denver toppled New Orleans by a final score of 102-93 behind a balanced scoring attack and the predictable energy infusion Nate Robinson provided.
In one second-half sequence, Robinson elevated to swat Eric Gordon's layup attempt, then took the ball coast to coast for a terrific finish over Ryan Anderson on the other end. It was Robinson's second block of the game, by the way.
He also tossed in 14 points for good measure.
The Nuggets currently sit at 14-9, a pretty impressive mark for a team that—according to its coach—hasn't brought the kind of consistent effort necessary for sustained success. If Denver builds on its performance against the Pelicans, look out.