by Abe Schwadron | Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Wow. How’s that for an opening act?
The Knicks are back! For one day, at least. New York mounted a 17-point first-half lead, then let the Paul Pierce-less C’s come all the way back to take control thanks to a 35-17 third quarter. Luckily for Spike Lee (and courtside buddy Chris Rock) and the MSG faithful, Carmelo Anthony went HAM in the fourth quarter and finished off Boston by sinking a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left. And while Melo led all scorers with 37 points—including 17 in the fourth—it was Rajon Rondo who for most of the game was the best player on the court, helping the Celtics to 51 percent field goal shooting as a team. Rondo attacked the rim, handed out some ridiculous passes, and finished with 31 points, just a point shy of his career-high. Plus, he joined some elite company: Larry Bird is the only other Celtic to post a 30+ point, 10+ assists, 5+ steal game…ever. The rest of his line included 13 dimes, 5 steals and 5 rebounds in 41 minutes.
We’ve got to be careful not to overreact to one game, but the Celtics’ pickup of Brandon Bass (20/11 off the bench) looks like a great find. That said, beyond Bass, Boston’s lack of depth is clearly going to be their biggest issue this season, and if Pierce or any other key piece misses significant time, they’ll be in trouble. Then again, if Rondo plays like that every night, he’d be a lock for NBA MVP. Tough pace to keep up.
Knicks-wise, there were as many negatives as positives, but the W is a welcome holiday gift. Melo was vintage Melo, especially in crunch time. Oddly enough, Tyson Chandler had more blocks (6) than rebounds (3) and played more minutes (37) than any other Knick. Rookie G Iman Shumpert was aggressive, attacking from his first touch. In 22 minutes, he had 11 points (granted, 3-13 shooting), 4 boards and an assist. Unfortunately, New York will be without his services for up to a month after he sprained his MCL on an awkward play under the basket. I think Mike D’Antoni just scheduled an extra round of back rubs for B. Diddy and Bibby.
Last thing from BOS-NYK: that Kevin Garnett, he’s a nice guy, huh! Missing a potential game-tying shot, then choking out Bill Walker, a nice way to end a Christmas Day game. Although, “what was KG thinking” is probably third on my list of burning questions from that sequence. More pressing wonders are “Why is Bill Walker on the court?” and “What in the world is going on with Bill Walker’s hair?”
Notice served. Miami ain’t playing around. Maybe it was the extra motivation of watching the Mavs raise the ’11 Championship banner in the pre-game. Maybe it was an extended summer’s worth of Finals regret. Whatever the reason, from the go, the Heat ran past the Mavs, opening up a 32-17 lead by the end of the first quarter. The final score doesn’t appropriately capture the way the Heat dominated. At one point in the second half, Miami led by 35 points. It’s then that Lamar Odom decided he’d prefer to sit this one out—he was ejected for arguing a charge call, ending his day with just four points, four rebounds, four fouls, a steal and a pair of turnovers in 13 minutes. Perhaps he had to prep for a hot date with Khloe?
Jason Terry had 23, and Dirk Nowitzki scored 21 despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter, while new addition Vince Carter contributed only five points in 21 minutes. Of Miami’s new faces, Norris Cole (7 points) may have done the most to earn himself more PT going forward. He played as many minutes as starting PG Mario Chalmers, and while he didn’t pick up a single assist, he initiated the offense and allowed Wade and James to get a breather off the ball. Shane Battier logged just four mintues with his nagging sore quad giving him some trouble, and the game well out of reach for Dallas.
Want to see something that explains the Miami Heat? Behold, the “Big 3″:
LeBron James: 37 points (11-19 FG, 15-19 FT), 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks in 36 minutes
Dwyane Wade: 26 points (11-21 FG, 4-6 FT), 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block in 35 minutes
Chris Bosh: 4 points (2-9 FG), 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block in 24 minutes
“One of these things is not like the others…” No Heat player scored in double figures save for Wade and James. No matter. ‘Twas a Merry Christmas for Miami.
OKAY THEN. The Bulls and Lakers refused to be overshadowed, putting on a show befitting of the Los Angeles spotlight, complete with a Hollywood ending. Too bad the script was written for the road team. Things started shaky for Chicago, as MVP Derrick Rose went scoreless in the first quarter and didn’t pick up his first bucket of the night until an elbow jumper over Steve Blake found the bottom of the net at 6:58 in the 2nd. Oh, and Carlos Boozer inexplicably had his shot blocked by Derek Fisher early on. But by halftime, the Bulls had opened up a seven-point lead.
Kobe Bryant steered the Lake Show back into the lead in the second half, battling his wrist injury to 28 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists (8 turnovers), including one ridiculous, vintage Black Mamba move down the stretch. The Lakers, though, missed Andrew Bynum’s beef up front, and got double-digit scoring performances only from KB, Pau Gasol (14) and Steve Blake (12), of all people, and blew an eleven-point lead (82-71) with 3:45 remaining, thanks to two missed free throws each from bigs Gasol and Josh McRoberts. Then, Christmas Day’s most ridiculous end-game sequence.
With 20 seconds and change to play and L.A. up one, the Bulls trapped Bryant at halfcourt, and Luol Deng picked off an errant pass. He then appeared to travel—no call—got the ball to Rose, and the rest is history. He dropped in a beautiful one-handed floater over Gasol after blowing past Derek Fisher on the perimeter (why is Fisher guarding Rose then, or ever?), and the Bulls stuffed Kobe’s buzzer-beating attempt at an answer on the other end, wrapping up a one-point victory for Chicago. Rose led the Bulls with 22, Deng had 21 (9 in the 4th quarter) and Boozer chipped in 15.
The question for the Lakers will remain how Mike Brown chooses shape the team’s rotation going forward. Matt Barnes and Jason Kapono got DNPs, while Troy Murphy and Devin Ebanks played 20+ minutes, and McBob grabbed 8 rebounds as a starter. But Chicago’s second unit dominated the Lakers’ bench. And all starters not name Bryant or Gasol. And Derek Fisher is a turnstile on D. And I’m done.
Meet the Oklahoma City Thunder, your Western Conference favorites. OKC got 30 points, 6 assists and 5 boards from Kevin Durant—who also found time during the game to give his mother a kiss—plus 19 off the bench from James Harden, en route to a win over Orlando that was never as close as the final score suggests. With 8 minutes left, the Thunder held a 22-point advantage before Orlando made a late, meaningless surge. Oklahoma City has size, youth, depth, chemistry, and can defend to go along with a two-time defending scoring champ. On a day where sloppy play was dismissed as residual effects of the lockout, the Thunder looked, for the most part, crisp and ready.
Ryan Anderson led the Magic in scoring with 25 points. Dwight Howard scored 11 (alright, he also had 15 boards, and Kendrick Perkins always plays him tough, but still). In related news, Orlando lost, in what I’m pretty sure was the “nap time” game of the day for most of us. The Dwight saga has begun. Wake me when it’s over.
I got nothing left on this game, except this.
Lob City, like Rome, wasn’t built in a day. But the Clippers played the Grinch against Golden State, are 1-0, and own the best record in Los Angeles, thanks to DRose’s efforts earlier in the day. Stephen Curry gutted it out for the Warriors on a bum ankle, but shot just 2-of-12 from the field (0-4 from 3-point range) for 4 points in 33 minutes. Monta Ellis was back in awesome-to-watch form in the first half despite grieving the loss of his grandmother on Christmas morning, but finished with just 15 points, as Golden State shot just 39 percent from the field as a team. In spite of his seeming inability to make a coherent, effective pass of any kind, David Lee led GSW with 21 points in the L.
As for the Clips, it wasn’t exactly the Blake Show, though Griffin put on a late push to lead the team with 22 points. Whereas most thought we’d see an endless loop of Chris Paul-to-Blake Griffin pick-and-rolls, for most of the second quarter it was Chauncey Billups, not CP3, handling the rock, running the show and, ahem, jacking up shots. Billups started the game shooting 2-of-9. Somehow, it’s Vinny’s fault. The only thing more annoying than watching Mr. Big Shot launch ill-advised first-half shots was the Justin Bieber/Drummer Boy Christmas song that ESPN insisted on playing during literally every timeout and commercial break.
L.A. turned it on in the second half, thanks in part to a bit of luck and the Warriors’ tough shooting night. With his team on the cusp of being blown out, Golden State head man Mark Jackson (who by the way, used to work at ESPN, apparently!) went to the old “Hack-A-DeAndre Jordan” strategy. With more than three minutes left in the third quarter, Golden State’s scrubs took turns bear-hugging DeAndre and his sub-50 percent free throw percentage. The results on the scoreboard were negligible, though Jordan did airball a free throw, and finished with an extremely odd statline: 25 minutes, 6 points, 1-2 FGs, 4-12 FTs, 5 rebounds, 8 blocks, 2 turnovers.
Chris Paul did Chris Paul things in the fourth quarter to put this one away for the Clippers, part of his 20-point, 9-assist night. Chauncey, to his credit, finished with 20 points, 5 boards and 4 assists, and LAC got nice contributions from Mo Williams and Brian Cook off the bench (8 points apiece). But the win wasn’t sexy by any means. The Lob City crew heads to San Antonio on Wednesday for a big test.
Line of the Night: LeBron’s 37/10/6/2/2. Expect him to appear in this space again. A lot.
Moment of the Night: Bulls play D, then hand it to the MVP. Goodnight, L.A.
Bad Santa of the Night: Drunk in Dallas.
Tonight: 12 games on the docket, with special attention to Grizz-Spurs, the new-look Hornets and of course my Wizards, who host DWill and the Nets. If Monday is half as good as Sunday, we’re in for a treat.