Thanks for joining us for theScore's Christmas Day live blog. Relive the action from the first three games of the day below, and from Lakers-Warriors and Blazers-Jazz here.
Wolfond: This was the Kyrie show from start to finish, and he capped it off in style, with a magnificent overtime period. As for that Hayward alley-oop, it still felt pretty tentative to me (he laid it up, and shakily at that), and he left a layup on front rim shortly thereafter.
As much as Irving's heroics, though, the Celtics won this game with their defense. Or, perhaps, the Sixers' lack of offense. Philly just couldn't create quality looks in overtime as Boston packed the paint, sent hard traps at Embiid, and created a bunch of turnovers. The Sixers were held without a field goal for the final 3:35 of the extra frame. It was yet another glimpse at the flaws that could make them vulnerable in the spring.
It's worth mentioning that against the other four best teams in the East, Philadelphia is just 2-6 this season.
Three stars for the Celtics: Irving, Morris, Tatum
Three stars for the 76ers: Embiid, Butler, Chandler
Scoot on over to our evening blog to follow along for Lakers-Warriors and Blazers-Jazz!
Lou: Kyrie. Irving.
The Celtics are in pole position thanks to two pull-up triples by Irving, who always rises to the occasion during important moments. Not to be overlooked, but Hayward finished an alley-oop in transition which should do wonders for his confidence moving forward.
Wolfond: Ha! Stevens instead just puts the ball in his best player's hands and lets him isolate, and lo, his best player makes an incredible shot to force overtime!
We haven't really talked much about Jimmy Butler this game, but his defense has been ridiculous down the stretch, including on that last possession against Kyrie. Seriously, that shot was bonkers.
J.J. Redick got a decent look at the end of regulation but couldn't quite get enough separation off a screen to knock it down. Free basketball!
Lou: This is awkward, but I have to retract what I said about Chandler being washed. He has been incredible in the second half, and just came up with a one-on-one stop against Irving before drilling the go-ahead three.
My guess is that the Celtics use Irving as a decoy out of the timeout. Brad Stevens loves to set up his role players for surprise buckets.
Wolfond: William, do mine eyes deceive me? Did this really happen?
This game is getting weird! Embiid made an incredible chasedown block on Jayson Tatum and then finally managed to get past Horford to the rim when Horford got screened by his own teammate in Rozier. Feels like this is setting up for a crazy finish.
Lou: Great response by the Celtics. Irving splits two defenders for his signature spinning layup, then Rozier drills an ambitious three. But their biggest issue right now is their perimeter defense. The Sixers are wide open off these down screens and they're raining triples.
Horford is massively important, but did you see that shot of him on the bench where he was wrapped up tighter than King Tut? That knee is going to be an issue all season, and the Celtics have no depth behind him.
Wolfond: Man, it's going to be tough if their bench keeps playing this poorly. Gordon Hayward has looked OK for parts of this season, but he's nowhere near where the Celtics need him to be, and he has been a complete zero in this game. He just stands around when he doesn't have the ball, and doesn't do anything productive when he does have it. Jaylen Brown hasn't been much better, and Terry Rozier, true to form, is trying to do too much. That they're getting outplayed by Philly's sad excuse for a bench is just wild.
That long Horford-less stretch also just killed Boston, as Embiid just feasted on Theis. He's now up to 30 points and 13 rebounds on 9-of-13 shooting. Horford was getting treatment on the sideline so we'll see what he looks like in this fourth-quarter stint. He just stoned Embiid in the post, so that's a good start!
Lou: The success of Morris is a case study in how confidence and character impacts performance. His hard-nose personality makes him a fan favorite in Boston, and he's shooting every shot with the swagger of a Hall-of-Famer. Morris has been the second-best Celtic this season, and he's been incredible in tonight's game as he already has 21 points on 11 attempts.
But will it last? The numbers say no. He's shooting six percentage points above his career average, and his finishing around the basket is 13 percentage points above career norms. No amount of elevated confidence can sustain those figures.
Meanwhile, the 76ers have made another comeback. They've gotten a handle on Irving, and the Celtics offense has devolved into a flurry of long twos from Jaylen Brown. How can they reassert control?
Wolfond: I'm of the mind that the Sixers should use Simmons as a ball screener more often when he's playing with Butler, so I was happy to see this:
The Tatum thing is annoying. He'll attack a closeout and have a chance to keep driving into the paint but decides instead to pull up from 20 feet. I like the Celtics going to him in the post when Redick got switched onto him. Meanwhile, Kyrie's defense continues to impress. He made a great deflection after swooping in from the weakside when the Celtics fronted Simmons in the post, forcing a turnover.
Now, can you explain to me how Marcus Morris is doing this?
Lou: Energetic response by the 76ers to start the third quarter. Embiid rattles in another three and Simmons gets a dunk to force the Celtics into a timeout. Boston is still in control, but Philadelphia isn't going away.
Of note: Jayson Tatum needs to chill with these long twos. It's just utterly deflating for the team when he misses because everyone knows it's a shot that he's supposed to avoid.
Wolfond: Really fun first half! Obviously it's been the Kyrie show so far, but having Horford back makes such a difference for Boston. Like, he has two points on 1-of-7 shooting in this game, but he's still been a huge positive thanks to his screens, his gravity, and his post defense. Embiid's eyes light up anytime he sees Theis in front of him instead.
Also, the Celtics as a team probably do a better job than anyone at taking away Ben Simmons' transition game. He always seems completely out of sorts against them.
Meanwhile, the Celtics shot 4-of-20 from thee (all non-Kyrie players: 1-of-14) and they're still up six, so they should feel pretty good about where they're at.
Lou: It's starting to worry me that Embiid can't do much against Horford in the post. The Sixers have gone to him on the last few trips, and it's just ending up with Embiid passing it out. Meanwhile, Simmons is doing his coward act in Boston and refuses to shoot. Butler should assert himself more in this game.
On the other end, Kyrie looks like to be in one of those moods where he's going to drop 40 or 50 and nobody's going to stop him. He just caught a deflected pass off Daniel Theis's back and turned it into three points. He's sitting at 21 points in 12 minutes and looks absolutely lethal.
Wolfond: I still can't believe how much losing the Nemanja Bjelica commitment has hurt the Sixers. That's exactly the guy they need. Their shooting and frontcourt depth are still major issues.
Also, for as much talent as they have in that Embiid-Simmons-Butler core trio, they're still so, so dependent on J.J. Redick. (Fortunately, he's been shooting the crap out of the ball and is keeping them in this game.) Per ESPN, Muscala still has not checked into this game:
Lou: Great first quarter of action. The intensity of this game easily outstrips that of the first two Christmas games combined. I love that there's so much bad blood between these two franchises. Give me another playoff series between these two.
Both these teams should be active leading up to the trade deadline and in the buyout market. The Celtics could use some more frontcourt depth, and the 76ers need a viable power forward. Wilson Chandler looks very washed, and Muscala gets torched by everybody.
Wolfond: Right, I totally forgot about Baynes' injury. He's been Embiid Kryptonite in the past, so that's a nice break for Philly.
Agreed on Kyrie: He's been awesome in this first quarter, and his defensive effort has been noticeable all season. It feels like the pace of this game should favor the Sixers but so far it's been the Celtics making hay in transition. The ESPN boxscore says that Mike Muscala has not entered this game, and despite the fact that I'm currently looking at Mike Muscala and he appears to be on the court, I'm inclined to believe ESPN.
Lou: Embiid looks like he's trying to prove a point against Horford, and that's exactly what the 76ers need. Boston's frontcourt is thin behind Horford, so Embiid should look to post him up early and often to get him in foul trouble. Guershon Yabusele and Robert Williams are in for a world of pain.
Otherwise, it's been the hustle of Kyrie Irving that sticks out. He's been working a lot harder on defense this season, and he's already gotten on the glass for three offensive rebounds in the opening six minutes. He's trying to will the young Celtics to victory, and I appreciate that.
Wolfond: Nice to see Joel Embiid get going with a couple of jumpers, including a 3-ball. I wrote recently about how the Sixers might need him to rediscover that stroke in order to open up their offense. That could be especially true in a matchup against Al Horford and Aron Baynes, two guys who have historically fared pretty well against him in the post.
Also, Marcus Morris out here looking Ben Simmons-level cowardly early on.
Wolfond: I would've put Russ over Schroder despite the rough finish, but hard to argue with much else. Now, let's get on to this matchup of Eastern Conference teams that are worse than the Raptors!
Lou: My biggest takeaway is that Capela needs to play with that type of all-out hustle more often. He grabbed 23 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end, while going up against an elite interior defender in Adams.
Allow me to hand out stars for the game:
Three stars for the Rockets: Harden, Capela, Gordon
Three stars for the Thunder: George, Grant, Schroder
Wolfond: 100 percent agree on the quick-two thing, especially when it's not even a one-possession game. If it's only a three-point deficit and you have timeouts left I can maybe get behind it, but what's the point in going for two when you're down four with under 20 seconds left??
Bigger picture: That was kind of a disastrous fourth quarter for Westbrook, huh? Also a very solid win for an undermanned Rockets squad. What were your big takeaways?
Lou: OKC goes for the quick two down four and Westbrook gets bailed out with free throws, but he splits the pair. I hate when teams try to prolong the game with the quick two - just take the three!
Wolfond: It's wild how Harden is just picking apart every pick-and-roll coverage the Thunder throw at him. They trapped again and he hit Capela for a dunk. Then the Thunder tried to hedge with Adams, but after Westbrook recovered to Harden, Harden cooked him with an off-hand inside-out dribble and then hit a floater over Adams.
Also, Austin Rivers is out here hitting crunch-time threes and playing lockdown D on Westbrook! Eat your heart out, Chris Paul!
Lou: I'm starting to get worried for the Thunder. Most of their success in this game has come from pushing the pace off turnovers and rebounds, but odds are that this game will slow down in the final moments.
Westbrook doesn't have his jumper going at all, so I would like to see George initiate more offense, although that's also an issue with Tucker putting the clamps to him. Schroder might have to step in and be the secondary creator for a few possessions.
The plan for Houston is simple. Give the ball to Harden and let him create and have Capela crash the glass on every possession. 75-year-old Nene bought him some valuable minutes.
Wolfond: Winning those Harden-less minutes was massive for Houston, but the Thunder sure helped them out by going with no Westbrook or George to open the quarter.
One thing I'll say is that the transition from starters to bench is not nearly as catastrophic for OKC as it's been the last couple of years, and Dennis Schroder is the biggest reason why. He's done a good job attacking and finishing at the rim, he plays mostly under control, and he can capably run the offense. He obviously isn't the best facilitator, but it kind of works because nobody else on the Thunder bench can score worth a damn, so they don’t really need Schroder to playmake so much as just get buckets.
Anyway, Harden and Westbrook are both back in the game now and the Rockets are finally getting a bit of separation. How do you see the stretch run playing out?
Lou: Let's see if the Rockets' bench can buy Harden a few minutes of rest to start the fourth. Eric Gordon needs to put his mark on the game beyond a few hopeful 30-foot threes. Danuel House Jr. has also been pretty solid with his defense and energy.
Wolfond: Harden has been ridiculous this game, and really has been all season, but yes, I'd be concerned about him breaking down if Paul can't eventually come back in good enough form to help him out. We've seen it happen too many times.
This game has gotten super interesting. One wrinkle I'm paying attention to: The Rockets seem very willing to switch Harden onto Adams, and the Thunder are responding by trying to post Adams on him. It's gotten him a couple easy buckets but Harden has actually held his own. He picked Adams' pocket from behind in the first half and forced him into a miss in the second.
By the way, the Thunder just trapped Harden and he easily slipped a pass to Nene for a dunk. They've had success switching that action when it's Jerami Grant as the screen defender but that's a scarier proposition when it's Adams involved instead.
Lou: It's definitely playing out at a slow pace. For me, I'm curious to see if the Thunder start to trap Harden. He's getting around Adams pretty easily on the drive, and he's basically the only one who can score on the Rockets. Harden is single-handedly keeping the Rockets alive with his 23 first-half points.
Back to the point about Paul: Are you worried that Harden will eventually wear down if he continues to carry the team in this fashion? He's literally controlling every single possession.
Wolfond: I definitely don't think Chris Paul is bad, but the hamstring stuff is starting to get pretty worrying, and it's not like he was setting the world on fire before he reaggravated his injury. The Rockets were still pretty damn good in the games he missed last season, but they clearly don't have the depth to make up for a dip in his production (let alone an extended absence) this year.
Anyway, I thought that was a fun second quarter, with Harden, Westbrook, and George all coming alive! Apparently Russ set a Christmas Day record with that last steal right before the half, but swallowing that ball with three seconds left on the clock instead of going for a heave was pretty egregious.
Stray thoughts: There's been a lot of up-and-down, but I feel like this game is going to wind up with a really slow pace rating because both teams are gobbling up offensive rebounds on almost every offensive trip. Capela already has eight of them. The two teams combined have 22. ... Steven Adams has such great coordination and body control for a guy his size. He hit a couple tough, awkward layups on the move in that half.
Any stray thoughts from you before we start the second half?
Lou: This is the first time I've seen Brandon Knight in nearly two years, so I thought I would jot it down in the blog. Basketball-Reference tells me that he's scored eight points in six games this year, but I don't quite believe that.
(Photo courtesy: ESPN)
By the way, on a scale of 1-10, how worried are you about Chris Paul? Is he in decline or is he just bad?
Wolfond: I feel like Rivers has forced things a bit in his first shift, but I agree, not being MCW is a mark in his favor.
The Thunder just went to a five-man second unit, which scored surprisingly well but couldn't get any stops. (I really like the energy they've been getting from Nerlens Noel off the bench.) I don't think the Rockets even employ five bench players so they staggered their guys instead and finally got a couple threes to go down. I don't mind watching the Thunder, mainly because I think they're fun as hell in the open court. Their offense does get super bogged down in the halfcourt, though.
Lou: It's actually incredible that neither team seems intent on running plays. The only set actions are directly after timeouts. Otherwise it's just Harden and Westbrook calling for a high screen and freestyling. It's part of the reason why I don't particularly enjoy either of these two teams.
What do you make of Austin Rivers with the Rockets so far? He's not Michael Carter-Williams so he's already good in my book.
Wolfond: That was a special pass. It was also the only assist the Rockets recorded in the first quarter! Both these teams are shooting terribly. The Rockets can't hit anything from behind the arc and the Thunder have already missed like 17 layups. Russ and PG are a combined 2-of-12 from the field, so being tied after one feels like a pretty good outcome for OKC.
Lou: I'm giving Capela the slight advantage over Adams only because James Harden is a better passer out of the pick and roll than Russell Westbrook. I mean, just look at this:
Wolfond: OH MY GOD.
For the record, LeBron and that rapping grandma still go 12-2 in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
As for this game, I'm intrigued by the Steven Adams-Clint Capela matchup. The Thunder should also just be doing whatever they can to get P.J. Tucker switched off of PG, because nobody else on the Rockets can guard him.
Lou: Joey, my condolences for enduring the annual snoozefest in Madison Square Garden. I kept checking my phone for the "Giannis clocks Mario" push alert and was sadly disappointed. As for this game, I have the Thunder winning easily, and while he's not quite in the MVP conversation, I will say that this is the best ball George has ever played in his career.
But please answer me this: Did I just see Rajon Rondo as a rapping grandma during the promos for this game?
(Photo courtesy: ESPN)
Wolfond: William, welcome. Merry Christmas! Who do you like in Thunder-Rockets? Is Paul George an actual MVP candidate? I've been talking to myself for three hours, please talk to me.
Wolfond: And that's a wrap on the first game of the day. The Knicks hung tough in the first half, but the Bucks stepped on the gas and pulled away pretty easily in the second. Credit New York for holding them to 6-of-32 from 3-point range; the Bucks missed some easy ones, but for the most part, the Knicks made it tough. Ultimately, this came down to one team having Giannis Antetokounmpo and the other team very much not having Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Three stars for the Bucks: Giannis, Lopez, Brogdon
Three stars for the Knicks: Vonleh, Knox, Vonleh again
Stay tuned for Thunder-Rockets at 3 p.m. ET, when the great William Lou will join the program.
Wolfond: Giannis checks out to a decent ovation from the MSG faithful. He'll finish with 30 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, four steals, and two blocks, with a plus-15 rating in 35 minutes. And honestly, he made it look pretty casual.
Wolfond: Giannis has been quietly dominant, with 26 points and 12 boards, but I actually think Vonleh has done a pretty good job on him when they've been matched up. Getting deep in his stance, refusing to get pushed under the hoop, and forcing Giannis to resort to jump shots.
Wolfond: I like Trier's game, but he gets tunnel vision sometimes. Missed Trey Burke wide open in the corner on that last possession - though, in fairness, Burke is 1-for-7 in this game. Trier also probably could've hit Luke Kornet on the pop. In any case, the Bucks are in control up 17 with under eight minutes to play.
Wolfond: Ever since I called out Maker for a rough first-quarter stretch, he's been probably this game's most effective center. The Bucks finally hit a couple threes after an 0-for-17 spell, and their defense has smothered a Knicks team that is just painfully light on shot creation.
Wolfond: Allonzo Trier has a fun and effective stop-and-go move. He used it to get to the rim for a pair of layups, but one of them was wiped away by an Antetokounmpo
Wolfond: Ok, I no longer believe in Christmas Day Kanter. His defense has obviously been rough, but he's not even setting good screens. I'm unsure why the Knicks are insisting on staying big rather than going to Vonleh at center.
The Bucks are up 13 despite shooting 3-of-22 from 3-point range - though the Knicks at 4-of-16 haven't been much better.
Wolfond: The Bucks have scored on seven of their first 10 possessions of the second half and appear to be done messing around. On the plus side for the Knicks, that Kevin Knox floater is smooth.
Wolfond: Unbelievable sequence from Noah Vonleh, who wets a three on one end, and at the other, slides with Giannis on a drive and swats the hell out of him at the rim. Vonleh's been a great find for the Knicks.
Other stray thoughts: Malcolm Brogdon has been a really underappreciated part of the Bucks' breakout this season. He's physical but under control, gets to his spots so easily, and is shooting the ball really well. Khris Middleton has been slumping for a while. He couldn't find his jumper at all in that first half. Both teams have shot the ball miserably so far. The Knicks are at 32 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from deep, while the Bucks are at 37 percent and 17.6 percent, respectively.
Wolfond: The Knicks are playing a bit of zone defense and cross-matching when they can to stick smaller guys on Brook Lopez, which is smart. He's struggling to get clean looks from deep.
Wolfond: Giannis broke up a dribble-handoff, collected the loose ball, took off down the floor, and dunked like Mario Hezonja was underneath him. Thon Maker is making me eat my words.
Wolfond: Have to get all this Knicks praise in now because the Bucks are still going to win this game by double digits, but great job by Lance Thomas to hold his ground and stay on his feet against Giannis in the post, forcing a travel.
Also, Christmas Day Kanter is a top-10 player.
Wolfond: The Knicks did a good job that quarter of making Giannis see extra bodies, and they got away with it because the Bucks missed a handful of open threes. That was also a pretty disastrous stretch from Thon Maker, who got pushed around inside, couldn't finish at the rim, and badly missed a corner three.
Wolfond: This is now a 16-5 Knicks run. They've done a great job bringing ball pressure at the defensive end and running off Bucks misses and turnovers. Charges drawn by Noah Vonleh and Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Bucks have helped them out by clanking a ton of layups.
Wolfond: Hey all, I'll be handling Bucks-Knicks solo before Will joins me for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
I know a lot of people outside the New York metropolitan area are complaining about the Knicks getting a Christmas game, but this team has been low-key frisky and fun for the past few weeks. The Bucks raced out to a 10-2 lead, but the Knicks responded with a 9-0 run out of a timeout thanks largely to Kevin Knox, who's really come alive after a rough start to his rookie season.
Also, Giannis Antetokounmpo was not credited with an assist for this play: