Some thoughts on some of the NBA Christmas games …
Knicks 101, Hawks 87
This game was largely a snoozer, having lost most of its luster once Trae Young entered health and safety protocols. Young was unable to piss off the Madison Square Garden crowd, and both teams entered the contest under .500, so far having failed to recreate the magic each had last season.
New York eventually took over a worn out Atlanta team, though it’s worth noting that the Knicks were also without Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley. Kemba Walker continued to profit from the absences, playing an Thibsian 40 minutes and registering a triple double, with 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, although he only shot 3 of 12 from the field.
Probably the most encouraging sign for the Knicks was Julius Randle’s three-point shot. Randle finished with 25 points and hit 6 of 9 deep. Randle is shooting just 32% out of three this season, a steep drop from the 41.1% mark he posted in 2021. It was probably unfair to expect Randle’s outside shot to hold. – he was a prime candidate for regression – but Randle desperately needs to find effective offense. Almost every one of his baskets is a chore, and his true shooting percentage is the lowest since 2016. Maybe Randle finally found his shot over Christmas. Even if he only shares the difference between his three-point percentage from last season compared to this one so far, New York would be in much better shape.
Bucks 117, Celtics 113
Props in Boston for having a hell of a fight with Dennis Schroder, Al Horford, Josh Richardson and Grant Williams all sidelined. The Celtics are likely kicking each other after dropping 13 points ahead with 5:28 remaining.
It was just a truly classic performance from the Bucks, who are now running almost at full capacity (with apologies to Brook Lopez). Giannis Antetokounmpo only played 30 minutes and consistently posted a 36-12-5 stat line. Boston shot 45 threes as Milwaukee bricked the paint, perhaps best exemplified by Giannis himself in the closing seconds of the game, when he turned into the lane to prevent a Jayson Tatum layup, then blocked a dunk of Rob Williams after Tatum drops the ball. The Bucks are a well-oiled machine, and the Greek Freak is threatening to take home his third MVP.
And don’t sleep on Wes Matthews! The mid-season pickup closed the game and got the go-ahead three with 30 seconds left. Matthews isn’t quite PJ Tucker, but if you squint, he can help Milwaukee with some of what Tucker contributed in the summer finale. In the playoffs, the Bucks will essentially need at least one of the Matthews, Grayson Allen, Donte DiVincenzo or Pat Connaughton to hit a big shot or two and face off defensively on the perimeter. Saturday was a reminder of how scary the Bucks can be when they get stuck. And now they seem to have more options on the wing than ever before.
As for Boston, the Celtics should be encouraged. This team can compete with anyone when Tatum and Jaylen Brown are healthy, and Williams continues to show he belongs on the ground in times of high leverage. All of the lingering takes about Tatum and Brown’s split are stupid. Boston should do everything around them and Williams. If Boston is really on the hunt for commercial candidates, Marcus Smart’s defensive intensity might not be as valuable as bringing in a more natural point guard to help calm things down in close games.
Warriors 116, Suns 107
It was a Christmas fight between the two of the best teams in the NBA. Golden State is now up 2-1 in the season series, and every win will count between these two teams if they end up meeting the playoffs and the series progresses to Game 7. The Suns can watch that game and still believe they’re in good shape. Jae Crowder missed a few important threes in the home stretch, and Devin Booker hasn’t had a lot of games 13 points on 5 on 19. Phoenix is still very legitimate.
The depth of the Warriors was the story of this game, however. Without Jordan Poole, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and James Wiseman, Golden State beat a Phoenix team at full strength. Gary Payton II’s defense was fierce as always, and he sank a few triples to start. Meanwhile, Otto Porter has also been fantastic, scoring 19 points including a few clutch buckets in the fourth. Rookie Jonathan Kuminga also played 21 minutes and looked unfazed in the playoff atmosphere, scoring 12 points to go along with his physical defense.
Golden State is scary. They’re already winning at a high rate, Klay waits backstage, and a group of players escalate every time someone falls. The experience gained by guys like GPII, Kuminga and Juan Toscano-Anderson could now pay huge dividends around the playoffs, especially when they contribute against the better competition. Despite all the talk of how the Warriors are trying to build for the future and win now at the same time, they seem to be spoiled for the role of useful players to squeeze in next to one of the big lines of all of them. time of Steph, Klay, and Draymond Green.
Nets 122, Lakers 115
I wonder how many cigarettes have been smoked because of the Lakers this season, because this team is infuriating. The Lakers’ season has been almost entirely made up of brief moments of skill surrounded by sadness, perfectly captured in their loss to the Nets on Saturday. LA was bad for much of the day, had a strong run in the second and a huge run in the fourth, and then couldn’t finish the comeback thanks to mind-numbing defensive errors and a tough attack. (The win was nice for the Nets, who lacked Kevin Durant, Joe Harris and Kyrie Irving. James Harden had a 36-10-10 triple double in his first game in 15 days.)
The Lakers were obviously hit hard by health and safety protocols – yes, it was Darren Collison playing his first NBA game in two years with the “S” on his jersey off – but it’s fair to expect more. of them when at least two of their stars are in good health. Russell Westbrook was ineffective offensively and was losing players defensively. Dwight Howard played six minutes, which is six minutes too long for this team to play a traditional cross. Talen Horton-Tucker limits team spacing. And LeBron, while spectacular, played a big part in the flawed construction of that list. Everyone deserves the blame.
Hammering the Lakers is a record broken at this point. Many people were skeptical of the depth of this team, which was compromised in large part because of Westbrook’s trade. The Lakers were wary of that “narrative” going into the season, but they need more Russ, THT or even Wayne Ellington right now, especially against another exhausted team. The Lakers cannot continue to rely on excuses. They must start to find solutions.
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