The Christmas Games are in the books and we look back at the winners and losers of the prestigious games day. A Lakers experiment goes completely wrong, and there’s a clear winner in the straight-up MVP duel.
Also: The Sixers can bet on the “minivan” and a Memphis Grizzlies star must finally extinguish a weakness in his game.
Winner: Tim Hardaway Jr (Dallas Mavericks)
The Mavs didn’t have a deep team last year, and they aren’t this year either. The failure of three rotation players (plus Kemba Walker) was all the more noticeable. Coach Jason Kidd only trusted nine players, including noble towel wringer Theo Pinson, two-way gambler McKinley Wright and Davis Bertans. At Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green were short of three defenders for the wing, so Tim Hardaway Jr. had to defend LeBron James most of the time. Not optimal.
It is no coincidence that James (38 points) scored at will. But that’s not Hardaway’s job description either. The shooter must hit the open three, create chords for themselves in late pitching situations. That was the hope after the 30-year-old missed the playoffs with a serious injury and was hailed as a ‘new signing’ ahead of 22/23.
He should also help make up for Jalen Brunson’s lost score. THJ haven’t really been successful yet, so far they haven’t been able to build on the strong 2020/21 season which landed them a 75 million four-year contract. 13.5 points with a near 38% rate from the field just doesn’t meet the requirements.
Hardaway remains streaky, but when hot, Dallas is a dangerous team. The shooter converted 4 threes in the third quarter, over 48 minutes it was 6 for 26 points (10/19 FG, 6/14 3P). Along with Reggie Bullock, he can be considered the pulse of the Dallas offense. If Hardaway scores more than his average, 14 points, then the Mavs are 12-3. If he fails, the Mavs are 6-16.
Losers: Lakers lineups
Can the Lakers keep their heads above water while Anthony Davis is absent? It’s not looking good right now, LeBron James can play that many 30-point games in a row. Since Davis’ injury, LeBron has averaged 34 points and 8.3 assists 57.1% from the field, but the Lakers have only won one of those four games with a lucky winner in Thomas Bryant vs. the struggling Washington Wizards.
Sure, LeBron isn’t playing at his peak anymore, but the Lakers have a slightly positive net rating in those games with James (+0.3). On the other hand, if James is sitting on the bench, it quickly gets dark. A net rating of -23.5 in 101 minutes is a debacle, let’s not even talk about the defensive rating of 129.2 here.
Also in Dallas, LeBron finished the game with positive plus-minus value (+2). Coach Darvin Ham continues to search for playable formations without his Superstar, but the options remain limited. “Without AD we lack length so we have to find other ways,” James said. So Coach Ham tried it in Dallas in the fourth quarter with a roster of five guards (Beverley, Westbrook, Walker, Reaves, Schröder).
“We wanted to play faster. Each of the guys can get rebounds and set the pace,” Ham explained. But who then watched the match could see a dominant Christian Wood. After just two minutes, Ham ended the experiment. And the numbers? They said the Lakers could even follow in those minutes (net rating: 0). For the Lakers in this state, it’s even a victory.
Winner: Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
It was the duel between the two hottest MVP candidates this season – and it was surprisingly one-sided. Jayson Tatum exploded in the third quarter for 20 of his 41 points and expanded its collection of posters. After his playoff dunk against LeBron James in 2018, the slam against Giannis Antetokounmpo should also have a special place.
In general, things were going well for the Celtics. RPGs scored again and then Jaylen Brown took over in the fourth quarter. It was still the Celtics of the first weeks. “We know the season is long and we will also have worse phases. There shouldn’t be a snowball effect. But it also helps if you hit shots,” Tatum said.
Loser: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
At the other end, Antetokounmpo succeeded only 9 of his 22 attempts. It was enough for 27 runs again, but the Greek only took 8 tries (only 2 hits) in the zone. The Celtics defense knew how to build the famous wall. With Grant Williams, Al Horford, Rob Williams and Tatum, the Celtics also have plenty of options to tease Giannis.
14 of his 22 throws were actually jumps, most of them mid-range (6/9). The Celtics, however, could live with it since Giannis penetrated less and thus gave life to the ball less often by ensuring rotations in the defense of the Celtics with kickouts.
Positive from the Bucks’ perspective: As in the playoffs, Khris Middleton lacked a key player for the 2021 champion. With his presence, Antetokounmpo should have life easier in the long run.
Loser: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies)
It remains a recurring and extremely frustrating theme even for the neutral viewer. Jaren Jackson Jr. is a great defender but has a tendency to concede far too easy fouls and walk out of the game. The Big Man also handed out Christmas presents to the Warriors and was only on the field for 20 minutes.
His fourth foul after just eleven seconds into the second half was significant. During an innocuous transfer from Draymond Green on the perimeter, JJJ grabbed the ball without any motivation, Green accepted gratefully. Same game at the end of the third quarter when Jackson simply retired James Wiseman’s jersey. That just can’t happen, especially not to such an important player (best net rating with the Grizzlies: +12).
Because even in his few minutes, Jackson Jr. has still shown that he has the potential to become defensive player of the year in the years to come if he commits fewer mistakes and puts a shovel on the rebounds. Here is an example. How many big men can move so easily and hold a guard like Jordan Poole in front of them with such ease? Whether Dillon Brooks is still sending help and leaving Klay Thompson is another matter…
Winner: Jordan Poole (Golden State Warriors)
Stephen Curry’s injury may also have something good. Since the leader watched from the sidelines, Jordan Poole has stepped into the game and looks more like the player who nearly won the Most Improved Player award last year. Step one: Not a single pitch error was reported against Poole – it hasn’t happened that often this season either.
Kidding aside, Poole is once again effectively creating for himself and again shows off his exceptional moves off the ball to shake up his opponents. It’s the Steph Curry school and it’s probably no coincidence that the two were seen talking to each other several times when the game was stopped.
Not everything worked out, especially the unnecessary ejection which cast a bad light on Poole. At times the 23-year-old has overdone his actions but it should be taken as a good sign for the Dubs that last year’s climbers are finding their feet better after a slow start. The big question now is whether Poole can replicate that with the reserves later in the season when Curry and Andrew Wiggins return to the top five.
Winner: Georges Niang (Philadelphia 76ers)
Georges Niang found a very special gift under his Christmas tree this year, which he immediately repackaged, hoisted into his minivan and presented to his teammates: “I know why I’m here for threesomes. It was my gift for them,” Niang said. after the Sixers game at Madison Square Garden.
Philly won its eighth straight win at the start of the Christmas Games. On the one hand, of course, that was down to stars Joel Embiid (35 points) and James Harden (29, 13 assists, just 1 rotation), who turned up the heat in the second half. But also in Niang. As long as Tyrese Maxey is injured, Sixers stars can use second line support, most recently Tobias Harris, Shake Milton or De’Anthony Melton. And this time Niang.
The 29-year-old scored all of his 4 threes in the fourth quarter (16 total points, 4/9 threes) after a mixed start, allowing Philly to mercilessly attack a Knicks weak point. In the final section, the Sixers continued to screen Niang for Harden as Niang was defended by Julius Randle.
Twice, the Knicks-Big backed up to prevent the bearded guy from driving. Both times Niang punished those spaces with three points (the second time after an additional, selfless pass stint). The third time around, the Knicks changed, and Harden had no problem going one-on-one with Randle. In the fourth example, the Knicks sent Randle a little too much help against Harden – which left Niang a little too open. Rustling!
This tactic succeeded mainly because Niang hit his three. Otherwise, New York could have skipped stretch four while working Harden better. But thanks to those games, Philly started the final section 24:9, the basis for the comeback victory. “I don’t know why they played in falling coverage,” Niang commented. “I probably haven’t seen that since college. They put two players on James and that allowed our two-man game to thrive.”
Harden went in a similar direction in his analysis. “We found something we liked there,” he explained. “We were just trying to get the best shot possible. Georges had a few easy tries.” However, he didn’t at first (Coach Doc Rivers: “Are we still on vacation?”), in the fourth quarter he did (“super answer”). He’s 42.1 percent from downtown all season, but there have been more ups and downs in recent days. The Knicks game was certainly good in a number of ways.
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