Christmas is one of the most exciting days of the year for everyone. However, what I look forward to most is the basketball. This year we have some great matchups and it was not a dissapointing day. These are my opinions on each of the games played on a Christmas Day.
After falling down 10-0 in the first minute and 58 seconds of the game, Brad Stevens took a timeout and the Celtics did not look back after that. They went on a 28-9 run in the last 10 minutes of the quarter and kept that momentum for the rest of the game. For the Celtics, Jaylen Brown shined. He had a great 4th quarter and finished the game with 30 points on 10/13 shooting. He is for sure one of the front runners for most improved player this year as his offensive game has evolved in his development in becoming a great two-way player. Kemba Walker’s numbers may not jump out at you but I think his impact on the game was the most on his team. Whenever the Raptors seemed like they were going to make a little bit of a comeback, Kemba would knock down a 3 and get the Celtics back on track. His plus/minus was +23 and he finished with 22 points and 4 assists on 50% shooting. Jayson Tatum is having a great season and he is an early canidate for a first time all-star. He didn’t have his best shooting preformance but he was still able to contribute with his 9 rebs 6 asts and 2 steals with a plus/minus of +21. It was also nice to see Gordon Hayward back from injury and shooting effienclty in his role with 2 steals as well. I think this Celtics team is deep and guys like Brad Wanamaker and Romeo Langford will be a big part to their playoff success. It is tough to analyze the Raptors because they are missing their Most Improved Player and future first time all-star Pascal Siakim. Vanvleet had a great game with 27 points, 6 assists and 4 steals. He is a very important piece to this team. Kyle Lowry stuggled a little bit shooting wise but still did not play a bad game. Chris Boucher came off the bench and had a great game. He had 24 points and 2 blocks. Other than that everyone played their role for the most part but we know what the Raptors have been this season with Spicy P on the floor.
This game was not the most exciting game because it was never really a close game until the end. This game was very informative in fact and I certainly have a lot to talk about for both teams. Even though the Sixers did end up winning, I think many of their flaws were exposed. Defensively, they were flawless. They played tough defense early on Giannis, and he had difficulty finishing around the rim curtesy of Sixers 7 team blocks and 9 steals. They let him shoot 3s as well as the majority of other players on their team. Giannis was 0/7 from 3 and since he was not able to establish an outside shot, the Sixers defense could play off of him. This made it much easier for them to defend him inside which is where he is best. That is the positive I got out of the Sixers today. The flaw is their offense in crunch time. Embid feasted in the first half with a career high of 23 in one half. He finished with 31 and played a great game. Ben Simmons was lethal in transition. He didn’t have to force up a lot of shots because Embid was hitting his 3s early which really opened up the paint for him. Embid made three 3s and so did Horford. Yes, they are above average 3 point shooters regularly, but today they were threats, knocking down shot after shot. Some added help from Furkan Korkmaz’s 16 points off the bench gave them the extra boost they needed. Going back to the crunch time point. Every team needs a closer, and the Sixers don’t have one yet. They entered the 4th quarter up by 27 and after being out scored 36-21 in the 4th by the Bucks(mostly without Giannis), they almost made a comeback. They brought it within 6 at one point and with about a minute and a half left, Tobias Harris hit a deep contested 3 from the left wing that was heaved up at the end of the shot clock. This is not a shot Tobias will hit with consistency, or one you would want to bet your game on. When it comes down to the 4th quarter, the Sixers will have to give the ball to Tobias when they need a bucket. This is due to a lack of iso game with Ben Simmons and Embid being easily doubled in the post late in the game. If Tobias can establish himself as a true closer, I will say the Sixers are a legit contender in the east. Giannis struggled to get anything going offensively. The absence of Eric Bledsoe was also crucial. Although he is not a great 3 point shooter, he gives the Bucks a real point guard that sometimes Giannis needs. Giannis started off the game bringing up the ball a lot more than the end of the game. When the Bucks started to make their comeback in the 4th, Khris Middleton was taking up the ball which worked out really well for them. Bledsoe also brings greats defense as he was a member of the all-defensive first team last year. Khris Middleton is an all-star caliber player, but he is no superstar. He had a great game putting up a stat line of 31-8-4 and making 5/9 of his threes. Not taking anything away from Middleton because he is a great player, but he is not the side kick that the other stars have in this league. My point in saying this is that the Bucks rely on their role players to step up every night, especially when Giannis doesn’t have it. Today they didn’t step up. Korver had only 3 points in his 20 minutes. And Robin Lopez played only 8 minutes but missed 3 threes. For someone who is a career 26% shooter from beyond the arc, that is not where his value is. Other players had also underperformed which is very unlike this Bucks team. The only other time I’ve witnessed their role players underperform severely, was in the Dallas game(with no Luka Doncic) that broke their 18 game win streak. Giannis scored 48 in that game. Although Korver did score 17 that night, Middleton only had 9 (Hence my point earlier-a legit side kick can give you more than 9 every night-but everyone has off games) and Brook Lopez had only 3. If the Bucks role players step up in the playoffs just like they have most of the regular season, and Giannis can establish an outside shot early in the game, this team can make some noise.
This absolutely amazes me. With all the offensive fire power that the rockets have, the warriors of all teams were able to keep them in check. For the Rockets, I thought Westbrook played well, but he did not shoot well from 3 at all which did not help their spacing whatsoever. He was 0/8 from 3, and still finished with 30 points, proving that he doesn’t even need to take those shots to be affective. Harden was efficient. He had 24 on 9/18 shooting, making 6 threes, to go along with his 11 assists. The name of the game for the rockets is 3 point shooting and as a team they were not great. They shot 31% as a team, due to the struggle of Westbrook, Rivers, McLemore and Pj Tucker. Keeping it simple, Rockets just didn’t hit their 3s tonight and played minimal defense like they usually do. Golden State trapped Harden on defense in the beginning of the game which did not allow him to get the shots he wanted early. He had 5 points in the middle of the second up until he went off for 11 straight. They also played a great team game offensively. All of their starters had a double digit scoring night. Damion Lee had 22 on 5/9 shooting making the 2 threes he shot. He also added 3 steals, 15 rebounds and 4 assists. They also got some big plays down the stretch by who else but Draymond Green. There is nothing special to really analyze about this game besides the fact that the Warriors played good defense and did not allow Harden to get to his spots the majority of the game. They tried to make the other role players of the rockets beat them with double teams and traps on Harden, rather than him going off for 40+.
Lebron came out cold and Kawhi came out on fire. Kawhi’s first 13 points came in his first 15 minutes on 6/8 shooting while Lebron started off the game shooting 0/7 with 2 points. Lebron was still able to keep his cool and play a good all around game, but thanks to Kyle Kuzma’s 15 first quarter points off the bench the Lakers still were in it. The game was the Kawhi show. He had 35 pts 12 rebs and 5 asts shooting 11/19 and 5/7 from 3. He came up in big moments even when Lou Williams and Paul George had off nights. He made all 8 of his free throws and got the ball in the hoop when it mattered most. He now moves to 15-8 in his career against Lebron. Pat Beverley had a major impact defensively. His plus/minus was +26 and for the majority of the game he was given the Lebron assignment. He had a huge block on Lebron in the final seconds of the game to seal the deal. Paul George struggled from the field but brought his defensive game with him and made a huge impact. The big difference between the 2 teams was 3 point attempts. When Lebron struggled early, instead of attacking the basket like he’s great at, he tried to force up too many 3s which isn’t his game. He was 2/12 from 3 and that is very unlike Lebron to even attempt that many. The lakers attempted 45 threes and only made 12 which is 27% as a team. Half of their made threes came from Kuzma(4) and KCP(2) alone. The clippers on the other hand only shot 25 and they made 9 of them which was good enough for 36%. The Lakers are a team that thrives off 3 point shooting due to their play style with the passing of Lebron. If the players around him struggle to make those shots it could be a tough playoff run for them. However I do think that they are well equipped with shooters and most of them had an off night. One positive from tonight for the Lakers is the play of Kyle Kuzma. Kuz shot 4/9 from 3 and showed the ability to be a valuable asset off the bench, and in the Lakers death lineup. He has been battling injuries all year and hopefully this is the start of him being healthy. I know he put in a lot of work this summer with shooting coach Chris Brickley who is notorious for making players better shooters. Overall it was a great exciting game and it was nice to see both teams at full strength for the first time. I would pay anything to see a 7 game series of these 2 teams in the Western Conference Finals this May.
Brandon Ingram deserves to be an all-star this year and it’s unfortunate that he might not be because he plays in the western conference. Why the New Orleans Pelicans play in the western conference is beyond me. He led the Pelicans to a W with his 31 points on an efficient 11/18 shooting. He has really thrived without Lebron and the reason for this is because he can actually have the ball in his hands. With Lebron, as I’ve explained in previous articles, other players often don’t get their touches even though he leads the league in assists. He leads the league in assists because he is gifted at creating for others, but Brandon Ingram isn’t that type of player. Ingram thrives when he isolates and breaks down the defense himself to score or create offense. He is not the catch and shoot type of guy that Lebron is best playing with. He has truly shined this year and is a candidate for most improved without a doubt. Right now he would get my vote. His 3 point percentage has increased from 33% to 41% and he is averaging 25 points compared to his 18 last year. Now he has the opportunity to get more shots up and he is doing it more efficiently as well. Jrue Holiday continues to improve his trade stock with his 20 points 8 assists and 6 steals. I am curious to see what teams are interested in trading for him because he can be a very valuable player on both sides of the ball. Josh Hart played some nice minutes off the bench and Favors put in worthy time as well. I would really like to see the rookie Jackson Hayes get more minutes. The Nuggets played an all around solid game, but Jamal Murray is slowly gaining the reputation of being a streaky player. After his 28 point performance on Monday night against the Suns, he had only 8 points on 2/10 shooting and was not much of a factor playmaking either. He is still very young at the age of 22 and has lots of room to improve. Jokic was solid but Favors definitely slowed him down a little. This year I don’t think that he is being aggressive enough scoring wise. He is a gifted passer especially at the center position but often does not look to score. In the beginning of games he should be aggressive and look to get to the hoop. This opens up the passing lanes for him a lot more once they start double teaming. This is not a good loss for the 21-9 nuggets as they fell to the 9-23 struggling Pelicans. They need to find more consistency in all of their players not just Murray if they truly want to contend in the West.