NBA Christmas Day: Naughty and Nice
Who’s was nice:
Monta Ellis: When Ellis is on, he’s an inferno. And the Blazers yesterday were powerless to stop him. With 39 points, he was en fuego, and for a Blazers team that plays pretty good defense but struggles on offense, that’s th equivalent of a death sentence. If Ellis can take the next step and not only be a leader in points per game but in terms of getting his team to play consistently, the Warriors have the talent to make a second-half run. But for a night at least, they’ll be happy with Ellis’ ability to create his own shot, which is nearly second to none in this league.
Kevin Durant: Well, say hey, KD. Durant had been good this season. He really had. But yesterday may have been the game that gets him back on track to being considered one of the true greats in this league. 44 points, with a barrage of those lift-up jumpers, as well as moves to get him to the line where he was 12-15. 21 points in the 3rd, and it was a whole different ballgame for both teams.
The Knicks Defense: I know. We were shocked, too. The Knicks held the Bulls without a field goal for over eight minutes in the fourth quarter and ran away with a huge win, their second win over the Bulls this season. The Knicks rotated well, cajoled the Bulls into playing their tempo, and stayed consistent with their double-teams, moving Derrick Rose further and further baseline which made his drives harder. Cutting off Carlos Boozer on the pick and roll, and suddenly the Bulls’ offense was a fish out of water. That’s a formula the Knicks could use in the playoffs. Geez, it looks like the Knicks may make the playoffs. How things can change in a year.
LeBron James: Wow. It was one of those games where you remember the total and complete impact James can have on the game. He got away from the drive-and-jump-pass nonsense he’s done all season, and went back to slinging perimeter passes, working out of the pick and roll, and most importantly, pushing the ball in transition. The Heat ran the Lakers out of the building, and James was a huge part of that, making defensive stops, snaring the rebound, and then pushing the fast break. His touch passing with Wade in transition is simply as electrifying as we thought it could be. James had his most MVP-like performance against LA, and was the biggest reason they walked out with a big win.
Who was naughty:
Al Harrington: The Thunder are a good defensive team, and have some length and athleticism to challenge stretch fours. But Harrington was off all day. He finished with 9 points and 6 turnovers, and it was his disappearing act that left the Nuggets without a final chamber left to fire.
Paul Pierce’s 4th Quarter: Pierce was brilliant for three quarters of basketball in Orlando, and looked like the rottweiler clamping its jaws down on the poodle and shaking for all its worth. But then the fourth quarter came, and Orlando started to send doubles at him consistently, including a very active one from Hedo Turkoglu, and Pierce vanished. That fourth quarter is his time, and the Celtics depend on him to produce then, especially when Ray Allen is having a bad day like he was yesterday. Pierce wasn’t having a bad day, he was having a great day, and the Magic just took him out of it. Not a great holiday for the Truth.
Pau Gasol: Someone apparently forgot to tell Gasol that the Heat are weak inside and can’t guard him. Gasol finished with 17 points on 17 shots and was outworked at both ends of the floor by fellow yogurt specialist Chris Bosh. Gasol is the best big man in the game today and simply didn’t effect enough force on either end. He allowed buckets and didn’t create them. with Bryant trying to shoulder the load again, Gasol needed to come through. Instead he faltered, and LA walks out with their second straight blasting on Christmas Day. Bah humbug.