Typically, by the time we get to the NBA Christmas Day slate, teams are in a good rhythm having logged six weeks of a normal season. This isn’t a normal season. Friday’s Christmas slate featured 10 teams playing just their second game after the fast turnaround from the bubble playoffs.
It showed in a lot of ways. A lot of sloppiness needs to be cleaned up on a lot of fronts. The Warriors look like a dumpster fire. The Pelicans, at times, are turning hanging onto the ball into a hold-your-breath situation. But mixed in have been a number of sensational performances.
The Nets look fantastic through two games. The Lakers and Heat were terrific on Christmas to move past their dud openers. In all, the games themselves weren’t terribly competitive on Christmas, with all five ending with double-digit margins. So we figure it’s best to focus on the best individual performances from the day. In order, here they are.
Irving said he was going to let his play do the talking this season, and so far he’s being heard loud and clear. Irving led the way as Brooklyn turned a halftime deficit into a blowout in Boston with 20 of his game-high 37 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter to put the nail in the coffin. He shot 13-of-21 including 7-for-10 from three and 4-for-4 from the line. He added eight assists and six rebounds for good measure. He was brilliantly efficient, scoring almost entirely from either behind the arc or in the paint as he and Kevin Durant played my-turn-your-turn to perfection.
Williamson was awesome in New Orleans’ loss to the Heat, which turned out to be the closest game of the day, finishing with 32 points and a career-high 14 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games. Zion joins LeBron James as one of two players in history to score at least 30 points on Christmas before turning 21 years old. He is a force beyond words. When he gets to his left, forget about it, and he has a knack for getting to his left even though everyone knows he’s trying to do just that. His second jump is a revelation. He’s a tremendous cutter. And he can face up and take you off the dribble, either putting you in a spin cycle or going right through you. He did all of that on Christmas; it just wasn’t quite enough.
Middleton dissected the Warriors for 31 points, five assists and four boards on 10-of-15 shooting, including 6-of-8 from beyond the arc and 5-for-5 from the line, relegating Giannis Antetokounmpo’s relatively pedestrian performance to a footnote as Milwaukee rolled. Middleton was aggressive to score from the jump, doing most of his damage in the first half (21 points on 4-of-6 from deep) before the game got laughably out of hand. Through two games, Middleton is averaging 29 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists on 57-percent shooting, including 56 percent from 3-point range. Hello.
Davis was a surgeon in the Lakers’ win over Dallas, posting 28 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks in about as easy a fashion as one can drop such a line. He started off on fire and finished 10-of-16 from the field, including 3-of-5 from the free-throw line. The ease with which Davis can get to his spot and rise up over anyone is honestly starting to feel Kevin Durant-like, and I don’t say that lightly.
5. Kevin Durant
Durant scored 16 of Brooklyn’s 35 third-quarter points that turned a three-point halftime deficit into a nine-point lead heading into the fourth, when Irving put it away. Durant finished with 29 points on just 16 shots, going 3-for-4 from deep. He showed some really impressive defense on Jayson Tatum, and put the ball on the deck and exploded to the rim with ease as evidence continues to mount that Durant is fully back to his old self. Durant and Irving were both plus-31 for the game. That is no joke against a team like the Celtics.
- Brandon Ingram: 28 points on 4-of-8 from 3-point range; kept New Orleans afloat getting to the line 11 times, sinking 10
- LeBron James: 22 points and 10 assists; moved into second place all-time in Christmas points, trailing only Kobe Bryant
- Duncan Robinson: Christmas record six 3-pointers in first half, finished with seven makes from downtown
- Goran Dragic: 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting; got into the paint at will; Heat plus-21 in his minutes
- Jaylen Brown: 27 points but it took him 25 shots
- Paul George: 23 points, 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, team-high plus-14
- Nikola Jokic: 24 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds in a footnote near triple-double