NBA Christmas Day roundup: Highlights, analysis and more
To recap the NBA's five-game Christmas Day slate, SI.com has analysis and highlights from each game. Scroll down for complete coverage and to find out who was naughty and nice this year.
Christmas Day highlights
• The day Draymond Green saved the Warriors’ Christmas
• LeBron catches fan making fun of him against Warriors
• Nance Jr. hits bizarre own basket against Clippers
• CP3, Garnett star in State Farm’s new Christmas ad
• Jackson on Curry: ‘To a degree, he’s hurt the game’
• Butler drains rainbow three to end first vs. Thunder
NBA Christmas Day: Warriors edge out LeBron, Cavaliers in Finals rematch
In their first meeting since last June's NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors outlasted LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for an 89–83 victory. Stephen Curry emerged late, but he had plenty of help in this one from Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston.
For 41 minutes, the biggest game of a still-young season was defined more by what hadn’t happened. Golden State hadn’t really started running, LeBron James hadn’t imposed his will, Stephen Curry hadn’t cooked, Matthew Dellavedova had yet to ignite a scuffle, and the things we’d gotten so used to were notably missing in favor of errant passing and easy misses. And so the Christmas delivery came late, but just in time, as Luke Walton and David Blatt traded substitutions with just under seven minutes left and the Warriors narrowly leading, 71–67.
Each team employed the sorts of perimeter-driven, center-less lineups you’d test on Christmas after unwrapping the latest video game. Instead, they• dictated the most critical moves and ushered in a rematch of June’s Finals that ultimately became a rehashing of what everyone saw six months ago, 89–83 in favor of the defending champion Warriors.
As evidenced by its resumé, Golden State is perhaps the best basketball team on the planet when it comes to dictating an uptempo, favorable pace, and it once again imposed its style of basketball down the final stretch. It didn’t come without some big moments from James (25 points and nine rebounds), who strung together a dunk-block-dunk sequence in the final two minutes to cut the game to two possessions. But on the flipside, James's two missed free throws with 90 seconds remaining loomed large.
From there, it was Stephen Curry’s turn. With a pair of dazzling bursts to the rim, the reigning MVP negated J.R. Smith's late three-pointer. Playing through a calf strain that briefly forced him to the locker room in the second quarter, Curry came through when it counted. Although he finished with just 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting, he converted the two biggest baskets of the game. A missed three from James with 12.7 seconds to go initiated fouling and signaled the end of this heavyweight rematch, one that left us wanting more.
The Warriors move to 28–1 with their 32nd home win in a row. The Cavaliers drop to 19–8.
Naughty: Kevin Love, Cavaliers. One of Cleveland’s two major absences during the Finals, Love was present for the rematch but failed to make a difference offensively and didn't convince anyone that the Cavs would have been better off with him in a seven-game set. He shot just 5-of-16 from the field, including a number of tasty looks from distance, and scored 10 points. Some of that was on Cleveland’s inability to find Love comfortable shots around the basket, but a player of his talent level can’t disappear if the Cavs hope to change their luck against the Warriors going forward.
Nice: Draymond Green, Warriors. Green keyed a quality start to the game for the Warriors, with Curry quiet by his own lofty standards. His 10 points, six rebounds and three assists after one quarter became 22, 15 and seven on the night, toeing triple-double territory and galvanizing Golden State throughout. Honorable mention: Shaun Livingston, who contributed 16 points off the bench, helping the Warriors hold a lead while the starters rested and played during the pivotal final stretch.
Style watch: All the custom sneaker colorways were good and well, but LeBron stole Christmas, for better or worse, with what appears to be a festive onesie and du-rag combo (never mind that nicely-tailored suit). If you squint hard enough, those might be two-piece pajamas. Does that say “Fa la la la la?” It also looked like he shaved his mustache to some degree. Tim Duncan could show up to the Spurs game in a hot pink Old Navy fit and he still wouldn’t get people talking like Bron Bron. Well, actually, on second thought …
Biggest takeaway: We can list Golden State’s statistical superlatives or, you know, mention that ridiculous win streak, or chronicle Cleveland’s early inconsistencies, but we had to see them head-to-head again, and neither gave much. No matter what happened tonight, this one was about June, past and future. That said, Golden State’s lowest-scoring effort of the season couldn't slow its resolve to close a game filled with missed opportunities that could have swung either way for the majority of 48 minutes. The Warriors turned it over 16 times in their third-worst shooting performance of the season, and still came away largely unscathed. It wasn’t the grandest of statement victories, but the Warriors sent a message nonetheless.
NBA Christmas Day: Harden, Rockets return to old form, stifle Spurs
One of the West’s two true juggernauts slipped up on Christmas, dropping a closely contested game to a Rockets team in the midst of a course correction. Houston’s defense led the way but it was James Harden (20 points) who powered through a slow start to hit a pair of crucial, contested three-pointers late. The Rockets went on to win, 88–84, in a game Friday in which neither team found much rhythm in its half-court offense.
This proved to be an important win for the Rockets, who showed their ability to match up and edge out one of the best teams in the league. San Antonio has been blowing out opponents for weeks, building up an impressive point differential behind a top-three offense and outstanding, league-leading defense. Houston took the challenge head on by locking up San Antonio from the start. The Spurs had some successful scoring runs, but overall their offense was run aground by an active, invigorated defense.
The Rockets played like themselves again.
Long, athletic defenders tracked the ball at every turn, staying on top of the play just enough to deny San Antonio its extra-pass momentum. When the Spurs’ offense bogged down and defaulted into the post, Dwight Howard, Clint Capela, and Terrence Jones battled for position and kept their feet. Trevor Ariza even managed to take the bite out of Kawhi Leonard’s iso sequences, leaving the Spurs searching for something—anything—that could put points on the board consistently.
Those frustrations, coupled with some uncharacteristically poor decision-making from Tim Duncan and others down the stretch, allowed the Rockets to command a game despite never really clicking offensively. History says that the Spurs, long masters of extracting efficiency from a dogfight, win most games of that type. Friday’s game came to a different result by way of Houston’s committed efforts.
Naughty: Tony Parker, Spurs. San Antonio doesn’t lean on Parker for offense the way it did even a few seasons ago, but it still needs more of him than he was able to provide in the Christmas showcase. Parker’s two points on the night were his lowest in any game this season. His 14.3% field goal percentage (1-of-7 shooting) was his worst of the year. His three turnovers in the game weren’t exactly crippling, though those lost possessions only added to Parker’s dead weight. It was a rough outing for the Spurs’ mainstay, who isn’t much more than a bit player in San Antonio’s vaunted defense and on this occasion couldn’t find much room to contribute offensively.
Nice: Dwight Howard, Rockets. Howard was the fourth-leading scorer on his own team on Friday and the seventh-leading scorer overall. Yet in a game in which no single player really thrived on offense, Howard’s work in coverage stood out. Pick-and-rolls were contained and sets upended because Howard loomed large on so many possessions. Ariza, Patrick Beverley, and Corey Brewer were able to apply pressure on the perimeter because of Howard’s lurking presence. Calling him a safety net isn’t quite accurate. Howard is a much more active participant in Houston’s best defensive sequences than most realize, even when he isn’t directly correcting a teammate’s mistake or snuffing out an opponent’s shot.
Style watch: The standard uniform sets of the Rockets and the Spurs fall within the deep ranks of the adequate; neither is much of an eyesore, and neither is exactly a vision of design. With the NBA-wide Christmas Day script changes, however, both come alive. The typical accents on both uniforms—a plain black stripe down the side of San Antonio’s jerseys, swooping white arcs on the side of Houston’s—work nicely alongside a subtle cursive. Kudos to those who designed a scheme that could work for 10 teams across five games, all while maintaining (and improving upon) the basic design elements that differentiated those teams in the first place.
Biggest takeaway: Houston can still really defend ... when it wants to. The Rockets, confounding as they are, just locked up an elite team a month after costing their coach his job with their apathetic defense. Trust in its night-to-night performance at your own risk, but Houston still has the components to be a dangerous team whenever it commits to guarding with energy.
NBA Christmas Day: Clippers beat Lakers in Kobe’s Christmas farewell
The Clippers appeared poised to finish Christmas Day with a decisive victory over the Lakers at Staples Center, but nearly lost control of the contest when they pulled their starters, exposing their subpar bench. Chris Paul (23 points) helped close things out for the 94–84 win Friday night, and Kobe Bryant took a backseat in what was his final Christmas game, scoring 12 points in 26 minutes.
Well, Kobe Bryant’s last Christmas game came and went rather quietly. Aside from some moments toward the end of the first half (a couple of threes), he remained off the floor, and off the board, for a considerable amount of the game. Bryant shot 4-of-10 and wasn’t used late during the Lakers’ rally. The Clippers pulled away by 28 after three, and while the Lakers bench was able to mount a comeback, it came without the Black Mamba.
Chris Paul was superb, going for 23 points on 11-of-19 shooting to go along with six assists and five boards. He helped the Clippers improve to 17–13 and fend off a late charge from the Lakers.
The biggest bright spot for the Lakers, outside of a nice fourth-quarter comeback effort, was the play of D’Angelo Russell. He started red hot with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in nine minutes, and added a few nice plays in the second half to finish with 16 and seven rebounds.
At the very least, the Lakers’ surge made this game watchable late into the night, so that was welcomed after a long day of basketball. On a few occasions, the fans at Staples Center broke out some “KO-BE” chants, but he politely ignored them so he could allow his teammates to continue cooking. That was cool.
Naughty: Nick Young, Lakers. Christmas Day. Lakers vs. Clippers. Big stage. This should’ve been a Swaggy P game, but he disappointed finishing without a bucket on five shots in 22 minutes. It was logical to think Nick Young would at least try to get up as many as Bryant (10). Honorable mention might have to go to Paul Pierce, who was just 1-of-6 shooting and shot a big ol’ airball during the contest.
Nice: D’Angelo Russell, Lakers. Chris Paul is too easy of a pick, so let’s go with Russell. He knocked down shots, showcased his height and athleticism with a nice block in the second half, and managed to pull down seven rebounds. He probably could have done a better job guarding Paul, but that’s not an easy task. It was nice to see the rookie unleashed in front of a national audience.
Style watch: Any doubt that these are the best Christmas jerseys of all time? They looked especially good on these two teams. The cursive made a return on the Clippers’ tops, and they were by far the best uniforms they’ve worn all year. On the other side, the Lakers’ purple made for a really nice accent. The shoes of the game went to Jordan Clarkson, who donned some “Grinch” Kobe VI’s. Unfortunately for the sophomore, he had to purchase them at a local retailer, according to the Lakers broadcast. Bryant apparently wasn’t able to hook him up for the holiday.
Biggest takeaway: This was not a pretty game to watch by any stretch. Both teams were careless with the ball for most of the night, Roy Hibbert was taking tons of jumpshots, and Young didn’t have a bucket. The Clippers almost lost their grip on the lead, which shows just how shallow their bench is. Neither one of these squads really impressed.
NBA Christmas Day: Butler, Bulls snag much-needed win against Thunder
If there's such thing as a statement win in December, the Bulls got it on Christmas. After dropping six of their last 10 games, Jimmy Butler (23 points) and Pau Gasol (21) helped Chicago bounce back for a 105–96 Friday afternoon win at Oklahoma City.
The Bulls’ season was teetering on disaster heading into Christmas Day. After dropping a hard-fought, four-overtime game to the Pistons last week, Chicago season's began to fall off the rails. Back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets followed, prompting Jimmy Butler to call out head caoch Fred Hoiberg. That trouble was amplified by Joakim Noah suffering a shoulder sprain that will sideline him for two weeks.
Before their holiday matchup tipped off in Oklahoma City—a city in which the Bulls had lost five straight—ESPN analyst Doug Collins opined on the telecast about the fragility of success. The Bulls certainly toed that line, but managed to jump back on the positive side with a wire-to-wire win over the Thunder. Butler led the way with 23 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals in a strong all-around effort. Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose combined to score 40 points to supplement Butler’s performance in Chicago’s much-needed win.
The Thunder, who had won nine of their last 10 games, gave the Bulls a formidable challenge. As they are wont to do, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were ultra-aggressive on the offensive end, forcing Rose and Butler to work on defense. Outside of Oklahoma City’s dynamic duo, though, points were hard to find. A late burst from Anthony Morrow kept things interesting down the stretch, but OKC didn’t have enough to keep pace with the Bulls’ onslaught in the end.
Naughty: Serge Ibaka, Thunder. Basketball observers were delighted when Ibaka developed the ability to step outside and knock down shots from midrange and the three-point line. No one could predict just how much he would rely on that new skill, though. Ibaka failed to make an impact on Christmas Day, and that’s partly due to his new residence on the perimeter. With players like Steven Adams struggling to finish at the rim, the Thunder could use Ibaka down low. His ability to fight for offensive rebounds and extend plays is almost moot when he is 3-of-12 from the field for six points (and only three attempts outside the paint).
Nice: Jimmy Butler, Bulls. Butler created quite a stage for himself on Christmas Day. When a star player calls out his new coach, the light shines brighter on both parties. Butler’s actions were (rightfully) watched closely after he said the Bulls needed to be coached harder. To his credit, he didn’t fold under the pressure, remaining dialed in on defense and providing offense at the same impressive rate that he has all season.
Style watch: Derrick Rose was one of few NBA players afforded the opportunity to wear his own special edition signature shoe on Christmas Day. Adidas didn’t disappoint with this colorway. As is often the case on special days like this, no attention was paid to the team colors and it’s hard to argue with the results.
Biggest takeaway: Because teams are covered and analyzed so closely these days, it’s easy for small blips to become magnified. Friday, we learned that the sky hasn't fallen, and the Bulls aren’t dead just yet. They pulled off a quality win and a series sweep of the Thunder. Few teams are capable of such a feat.