The holiday is here and five must-see matchups have been added to the NBA roster.
Check out what happened on Christmas Day as Yaron Weitzman, Ric Bucher and Melissa Rohlin share their key takeaways from each primetime competition.
Philadelphia 76ers 119, New York Knicks 112
Current status: The Sixers are now 20-12 and currently on an eight-game winning streak. The Knicks are now down 18-16 and have lost three straight games.
Important statistics: Joel Embiid continued to maintain his claim as the game’s top player. He leads the league in goals, scoring 35 points in Sunday’s win.
Important takeaways: The story of this game – before and during – was James Harden. An hour before tip-off we got the bomb courtesy of ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowskithat Harden is “seriously considering a free-hand return to the Houston Rockets this July.” During the game, Harden then clipped the Knicks with 29 points and 13 assists while helping lead the 76ers to a 119-112 win at Madison Square Garden. The win marked the Sixers’ eighth consecutive win and showed what the team envisioned when pairing Harden with Embiid. Two dominant players (Embiid had 35 points in 12v22 shooting) who when at their best form an unbeatable combination. Of course, the question has always been whether the stars are interested and willing to work together. Games like this show what it looks like when they do. Reports like this morning’s are why it’s understandable if you have doubts. — Yaron Weitzman
Dallas Mavericks 124, Los Angeles Lakers 115
Current status: Both LA and Dallas have been underpowered this season. The Lakers are 13-20 and have now lost four straight games. The Mavs are now 18-16 and have won three straight games.
Important statistics: This season, the Mavs are now 15-6 if Luka Dončić scores 31 or more points. But he wasn’t alone today as Christian Wood scored 30 and Tim Hardaway Jr. 26.
Important takeaways: The Mavericks challenged LeBron James to beat them – the Lakers didn’t dare do the same with Dončić. In the end, Dallas’ chicken play proved far more effective in a 124-115 win. The Lakers and James, as they have often done this season, looked like formidable opponents early on but faded down the line. Concerns about Dončić’s supporting cast seemed justified in the first 24 minutes. Forcing the ball out of his hand by doubling it once it crossed halfway worked very well as Hardaway and Spencer Dinwiddie made a combined 1-on-10 for a total of three points. The Mavs, meanwhile, were content to selectively field a second defender against James and he took full advantage, scoring 18 points on 9-for-13 shooting in the first half to level the Lakers’ 11-point halftime lead.
But that changed in the third quarter. The Lakers continued to double Dončić, but quicker decisions and better overall ball movement resulted in wide-open 3s galore. After missing 12 of 17 long-range attempts in the first half, the Mavs buried seven of 11 in the third quarter and limited the Lakers to 1-on-6 from the same range, all leading to a 31-point swing. Dallas goes into the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead. James added 20 points in the second half for a game-high 38, but half of that came from the free-throw line in the closing stages after the result was decided. Dončić, using minimal energy in the first half, came alive: 22 points, seven assists (not including turnover) and six rebounds to finish a board and a dime short of a triple-double. — Rick Bucher
Boston Celtics 139, Milwaukee Bucks 118
Current status: with the profit Boston stayed on top of the East at 24-10. Milwaukee is now 22-11 as they again await the return of Khris Middleton.
Important statistics: Jayson Tatum went to Boston in his biggest game of the season so far, recording 41 points on 14 of 22 shots, seven rebounds and five assists. The Celtics are 15-3 this season if Tatum scores 30 or more points, 5-1 if he scores 40 or more points, and 12-2 if he shoots 50% or more from the field.
Important takeaways: When Tatum plays like he’s the best player in the NBA, the Boston Celtics play like the best team in the league. That was demonstrated once again in a battle between the top two teams in the league in primetime on Christmas Day, when the Celtics swept away from the Bucks in a 139-118 win behind Tatum’s 41 points.
Competitively, the game was closer than the final score would suggest, but the Celtics were in control for most of the night. The Bucks came into play as the league’s third-best defense, with Brook Lopez a contender for Defensive Player of the Year and Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo the perennial All-Defense team picks. But Tatum looked completely unimpressed and had performed on every level – interior, midrange, longrange.
For whatever reason, when Tatum plays with confidence, it spreads to the rest of the Boston roster. Point guard Marcus Smart was at his best, scoring just six points but providing eight assists with just one turnover. Jaylen Brown struggled on the free-throw line (2-6) but was clinically efficient everywhere else (11-19 overall, 5-9 on 3s) and scored 29 points. Tatum downed three of his seven 3s (42.9%) and that inspired solid shots from the entire squad (19-39 overall, almost 50%). The Celtics outplayed the Bucks from across the arc 57-39.
It also helped that the Celtics were as close to full strength as they have been all season, with center Robert Williams coming off the bench for his fourth appearance this season and the Bucks not as All-Star Guard Khris Middleton was out for a fifth game in a row. Williams only reinforced one of the Celtics’ advantages over the Bucks: depth. Boston’s bench surpassed Milwaukee’s 40-29.
Antetokounmpo has shown at times that he can erase this and every other advantage an opponent has, but it wasn’t one of those times. His -27 plus-minus was by far the worst on the team, and he needed 22 shots to score 27 points. In the duel between two of this season’s top MVP candidates, the advantage is Tatum.
Golden State Warriors 123, Memphis Grizzlies 109
Current status: Memphis and Golden State are going in two different directions, but GS clinched a much-needed win on Sunday. The Grizz lead the West 20-13 and have won eight of their last 11. The Warriors are 16-18 and have lost seven of their last 10.
Important statistics: With Steph Curry down with a shoulder injury, the Warriors are 2-3. And though they had a 16-point win in Toronto on Dec. 18 and a 14-point win on Sunday, their three losses since Curry’s injury have averaged 26.7 points.
Important takeaways: I’ve said for a long time that you can’t count the Warriors even though they’ve struggled this season. On Christmas Eve, they showed why this is so. Without Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins, the Warriors, who sit 11th in the Western Conference, beat the second-place Grizzlies. For the defending champion, Sunday’s game was personal after last season’s Western Conference semifinals series against the Grizzlies, which included plenty of trash talk and quick-wittedness.
So without two of their biggest stars, the Warriors won by committee.
Jordan Poole had a team-high 32 points in 29 minutes. Draymond Green showed a master class at making everything but goals, finishing with 13 rebounds, 13 assists and a brilliant defensive performance (while only scoring three points). And the team also received significant contributions from Klay Thompson (24 points), Donte DiVincenzo (19 points), Ty Jerome (14 points), Anthony Lamb (11 points) and Moses Moody (10 points).
The Warriors made 18 3-pointers, twice as many as the Grizzlies. Despite a performance of 36 points, seven rebounds and eight assists from Ja Morant, the Grizzlies couldn’t overcome the Warriors’ overall team effort. It was a great Christmas present for the injured Curry, who was all smiles as he donned a green suit and cheered on his team from the bench. — Melissa Rohlin
Denver Nuggets 128, Phoenix Suns 125 (OT)
Current status: Denver is in talks for the best team in the league, sitting 21-11 ahead of the West and having won seven of their last eight. Phoenix, the best team in the West from a year ago, now sits at 19-15 and has won just three of their last 11 games.
Important statistics: Reigning MVP Nikola Jokić is likely to get better. He’s the only non-point guard in the top 10 in assists, and as of Sunday he has seven league-leading triple-doubles this year.
Important takeaways: The last game was perhaps the most fun. The Nuggets produced a 128-125 overtime win over the Suns, including the first-ever 40+ triple-double of Christmas from Jokić (41 points, 15, rebounds and 15 assists) and a monstrous dunk from Aaron Gordon over Landry Shamet with 24 seconds left in overtime that could see him getting a real All-Star consideration.
This nail biter had six lead changes and six draws, with both teams leading by double digits at times. Impressive for the Suns is that they made this game such a competitive game despite Devin Booker only playing four minutes after suffering another groin injury. In his absence, Shamet, a reserve, led the Suns with 31 points in 10-for-20 shooting, including seven 3-pointers.
But the monster performances of Jokić, Gordon (28 points in 11-for-18 shooting and 13 rebounds) and Jamal Murray (26 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter) catapulted the Nuggets past the Suns and gave them the best gift of all at Christmas: the number 1 in the Western Conference. — Melissa Rohlin
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Refueling to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boldest Trial in Professional Sports History.”.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has authored two books, Rebound, about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and Yao: A Life In Two Worlds. He also has a daily podcast, On The Ball with Ric Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Ric Bucher.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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