Breakfast Special: There’s No Win At Home For the Holidays

It was a bad Christmas to host a basketball game. Of the five games that made up the Christmas bonanza, three were won by the road team; only the Warriors and Thunder got the job done.

We begin with the Rockets who, with only a single loss with Chris Paul in the lineup, dropped to 11-5 without him.

They did this despite a Triple 20; 29 points from James Harden and 20 each from Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza.

The Thunder, meanwhile, had a Triple 20 of their own, as Carmelo Anthony finally seems to be learning how to play Oklahoma City basketball.

With far fewer isolations, Melo was 8-of-12 for 20 points, while Paul George notched 24 on 8-of-15 and Russell Westbrook hit half of his 24 shots and 7-of-8 of his free throws to get to 31 points.

Steven Adams, meanwhile, was 7-of-9 from the field to get 15 points and offset the 19 that Houston got from Clint Capela.

Houston played classic Rockets basketball. They outshot the Thunder from the free throw line, making 25 against 18. They took far more threes, but they simply didn’t make a higher percentage of them. Houston was 12-of-37 (32.4 percent) from long range, while OKC was 8-of-18 (44.4 percent.)

Oklahoma City just won this game two points at a time, finishing with 35 two-pointers to Houston’s 23, and that was enough to get to 112-107 as a final score.

Highlights from the reigning MVP, who outdueled his would-be successor in this one:

And fourth-quarter highlights from a game that was tied at 88 after three:

Finals Preview, Take 4

If you’re the sort who believes that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are divinely ordained to meet for a fourth straight NBA Finals, this was your regular season preview.

And if the result’s anything to go by, Cleveland has got some problems.

Golden State didn’t have Stephen Curry. They won 99-92 anyway despite Patrick McCaw starting and scoring only nine points in Curry’s slot.

Klay Thompson had 24 points, Kevin Durant had 25, and the Cavaliers shot a frightening 28-of-88 (31.8 percent!) from the field in this one.

Indeed, this game would’ve been a blowout but for the Cavs actually pulling it together and winning the battle beyond the arc, to the tune of 15-of-36 (41.7 percent) against the Warriors’ 10-of-37 (27 percent.)

On the other hand, just like the Thunder, Golden State was perfectly content to win this game the old-fashioned way, two points at a time. The Warriors shot 62.2 percent on two-pointers. Cleveland shot 25 percent (13-of-52. Yes, really.)

Meanwhile, Draymond Green had one of those how-did-that-happen triple-doubles, netting 12 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. Green leads the Warriors in assists per game, even as Golden State moves that ball so well that rather than have a point guard find the open man for a one-pass catch-and-shoot, Green just seems to be the penultimate guy to touch the ball on a possession naturally.

How bad was Cleveland? Well, consider that Kevin Love, despite his 31 points and 18 rebounds, shot 36 percent (9-of-25) from the field. Then consider LeBron James, who was a hot mess, shooting 7-of-18 (38.9 percent) and had more turnovers (seven) than assists (six.)

And then throw on top of that the fact that the rest of the Cavaliers shot 28.9 percent.

Highlights, and no matter how much you make this into a star duel, Durant was the man of the match:

Gang Green

The Celtics have been a mess the past ten games, going 5-5 and dropping off their perch they occupied at the start of the season. Take away that 16-game winning streak and Boston is 11-10, the kind of uneven, up-and-down result that makes one wonder if they’ll go 49-33…a .500 season with a 16-game winning streak bolted onto it.

John Wall (21 points), Bradley Beal (25), and Otto Porter (20, on 7-of-10 shooting) had the Big Three Triple 20 that wins basketball games, the Wizards won the turnover battle 16-8, and despite horrendous three-point shooting by Washington (6-of-26) and excellent beyond-the-arc work from the Celtics (14-of-29), those eight extra possessions, combined with a 14-8 offensive rebounding advantage, sank the C’s in Beantown by a 111-103 count.

Jayson Tatum had 20 points on Rookie’s First Christmas, shooting 7-of-9 and matching Porter every step of the way, while Kyrie Irving needed 18 shots (making eight) to get his 20 points, a far less efficient result.

Meanwhile, the Wiz controlled the free throw line, making 19 foul shots to Boston’s 11 and shooting 67.9 percent against the C’s going 11-of-17.

This was a total win for Washington, a statement game, and if the Wizards, finally healthy again and set to make a serious run at the four seed if and when the Pacers and Pistons yield it to them, get Boston in a second-round series, we may yet see the opposite result to the one we got last year.

Wall’s 14 assists made him the man of the match:

Processing It All

The Sixers got Joel Embiid back in the lineup, and against the Knicks, it became obvious why “The Process” is so key to their fortunes.

Embiid had 25 points and 16 rebounds, J.J. Redick added 24 on just 6-of-10 from the field, and Ben Simmons was not as good as Jayson Tatum because Tatum deserves the Rookie of the Year (Simmons had 8 points on 4-of-8 shooting and was minus-3 in his 33 minutes), and all that led to a 105-98 win at Madison Square Garden.

Enes Kanter had 31 points and 22 rebounds in a fantastic game for the Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis added 22 on a horribly inefficient 6-of-19 day at the gym, and Courtney Lee completed the Triple 20 with 20 points of his own, but the rest of the Knicks scored only 25 points combined on 12-of-41 (29.3 percent) shooting from the field and just 1-of-9 shooting from three. Plus, the rest of the team attempted only four free throws (against 18-of-24 from the stars combined)…and missed all four of them.

No wonder the Sixers won. Seven players combined to score the same number of points as Joel Embiid.

Highlights from the Process:

And what the hey, Kanter deserves a place at the breakfast table even if the rest of his team couldn’t get the job done:

Not since Jerry West in the 1969 Finals has a man been so glorious in basketball defeat.

And Finally…

Kyle Kuzma would like it to be known that you have an East Coast bias in your Rookie of the Year talk.

Kuzma scored 31 points, but Jordan Clarkson tried too hard to show the world that he should be starting ahead of the injured Lonzo Ball and ended up shooting the argument in the foot when he got his 17 points on a horrible 8-of-24 shooting night. That’s Dark Ages stuff right there.

Meanwhile, what is it with Christmas and star-driven collections of 20-point games?

Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler brought the best of their Chicago pedigree with them to score 23 points each, Karl-Anthony Towns had a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and the Timberwolves won the TNT Christmas nightcap 124-107 at Staples Center, riding a 58.3 percent shooting night and an insane 73.1 percent clip on two-point shots to the win.

Kuzma was 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) from Encino; the rest of the Lakers shot 4-of-19 (21.1 percent) beyond the arc. That’s a no help from your teammates game writ large on the landscape.

Highlights, as Butler claims the man of the match honors:

With the holiday season drawing to a merciful end, it’s time to get back to work. I’m reserving conversation about the Pacers this week, waiting to see how their three-games-in-four-nights stretch turns out (a SEGABABA against the Mavericks in Indianapolis? What could possibly go wrong?).

So instead, I’m going to toss out a whimsical glossary of sorts to the concepts I’ve introduced in this season’s writing. Because I approach the game a bit differently from most analysts of the sport, I felt like I should put all the concepts in one place. Watch for that either tonight or tomorrow (depending on whether the coffee has an effect on this headache of mine when Starbucks opens in about an hour…)

Happy holidays and thanks for reading!