Winners and Losers from All 5 NBA Christmas Games

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 26, 2012

Winners and Losers from All 5 NBA Christmas Games

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    The NBA's five-game Christmas slate put fans in a cheery mood all day, so it might feel like a little bit of a holiday buzzkill to parse through every game to pick out "losers." But hey, even Santa Claus makes a "naughty and nice" list, so there's a precedent here. Besides, we'll name a few winners, too.

    Sure, the final scores matter in the most technical sense, but we're more concerned with the deeper storylines these Christmas games represented.

    For example, Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets gave their fans a stocking full of coal to kick the morning off, leaving serious doubts about the team's leadership and makeup. And speaking of leaders, the L.A. Clippers bench assumed an unlikely role as its team's catalyst to cap off the day's games with a win over the Denver Nuggets.

    Those were just the bookends to a day jam-packed with NBA action, though. In between, we had plenty of other surprises and disappointments.

    As you undoubtedly thought when you dove into your third piece of pie: Some is good, but more is better. So even after spending somewhere around 15 hours watching five games of hoops, we know you're still hungry for a recap of the winners and losers from all of the Christmas games.

Boston Celtics vs. Brooklyn Nets

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    Winner: Boston's Bench

    All season long, the Boston Celtics have gotten predictable production from their veteran trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. But in a Christmas miracle, the C's bench actually showed up against the Brooklyn Nets.

    Rookie Jared Sullinger registered a career high with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, while the heretofore totally unproductive Jeff Green chipped in with 15 of his own.

    With an aging core and plenty of regular- and postseason games ahead of them, the Celtics desperately need their bench to contribute on a consistent basis. When the subs log productive minutes, Boston's issues with health, speed and age recede faster than Kevin Garnett's hairline.

    See, it's not that the Celtics' vets can't play at a high level; it's that they just aren't young enough to do it every night.

    If Sullinger and Green (not to mention a few others) can give the team one or two nights a week of solid production, Boston has a better chance of preserving its core for a playoff run.

     

    Loser: Avery Johnson

    If you caught a glimpse of Deron Williams' expression in any of the Nets' huddles, you saw an expression that seemed to frustratedly say, "Let me guess, Coach: another isolation?"

    The Nets point guard has already been rumbling about his team's sets, and his dissatisfaction seemed awfully justified against the Celtics.

    Time and time again, the Nets plodded up the floor, cleared a side and set up an isolation play. Sometimes it was Williams or Joe Johnson on the wing; others, it was Brook Lopez on the block. Whoever got the ball, the results were poor.

    The Nets managed just 76 points on 40 percent shooting. Worse still, they logged just 14 assists versus 20 turnovers.

    It'd be easy to blame Williams or Johnson for the team's offensive struggles, but it looks like the issues in Brooklyn start at the team's strategic top. Avery Johnson's offense is simply too predictable and statistically inefficient to succeed.

    The isolation play is basketball's least efficient mode of attack, yet Avery's Nets are strangely committed to the one-on-one game. That stubbornness in the face of the obvious (and statistically proven) failure of such sets is a huge indicator that Johnson is not creative or adaptable enough on offense. The Nets never got good shots and turned the ball over all day as a result of their clunky offense.

    Not good, Avery. Not good at all.

New York Knicks vs. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Winner: Steve Nash

    The Los Angeles Lakers had already started to turn things around before Steve Nash's return against the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 22, but their thrilling win in that one, coupled with an impressive 100-94 victory against the New York Knicks on Christmas, certainly illustrated the point guard's importance to the team.

    Nash, who didn't look much like a guy who was playing his fourth game of the season, pushed all the right buttons for L.A. He hit shots down the stretch, captained the offense and even competed defensively.

    After all the hand-wringing about the Lakers' defensive shortcomings and lack of offensive punch, they're sitting at .500 after a win over the dangerous New York Knicks.

    And Nash was right in the middle of it all with 16 points, 11 assists and six rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting.

    Kobe Bryant needs to retain his efficiency and Dwight Howard must return to full health, but we now know that nobody is more important to the Lakers' success than their 38-year-old point guard.

     

    Loser: Steve Nash

    As we established, Nash makes the Lakers go. However, if he has to play nearly 38 minutes every night, the Lakers' string of success could come to a screeching halt.

    The broken fibula was a freak accident, but Nash has had issues with his back for years and hasn't topped 34 minutes per game since 2007-08. Clearly, his health is a concern.

    Mike D'Antoni needs his point guard to direct the offense in order to win games, but Nash can't keep this up.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat

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    Winner: LeBron James

    As cliched as it feels to laud LeBron James for his Christmas performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder, there's just no honest way to evaluate the game without naming him the winner.

    James is unequivocally the greatest player on the planet, and he continued his insanely efficient season with 29 points on 20 shots against OKC. For good measure, he even threw in nine assists and eight rebounds.

    If you wanted to get creative, you could call Mario Chalmers a winner, but his 20-point performance doesn't even happen if James isn't the one finding him for open three-point looks.

    Just for perspective, Kevin Durant played an absolutely terrific game, but his 33 points and seven rebounds paled in comparison to James' effortless brilliance.

     

    Loser: Russell Westbrook

    It seems like the only thing more predictable than praising LeBron James in a Miami Heat win is bashing Russell Westbrook in an OKC loss. So in an effort to avoid angering Westbrook's apologists, let's make this a little more impersonal.

    Let's say Player X shot 5-of-19 from the field and turned the ball over five times in a critical game.

    Let's also say Player X allowed a below-average point guard on the other team to knock down four three-pointers en route to 20 points, a performance that very well might have been the difference in the game.

    Finally, let's say Player X is teammates with the most gifted pure scorer in the sport, but somehow, Player X assisted precisely zero of said gifted scorer's buckets.

    Wouldn't it be fair to call Player X the loser of that game?

Houston Rockets vs. Chicago Bulls

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    Winner: Daryl Morey

    Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has to be satisfied after watching his team completely dominate the Chicago Bulls on the road. The blowout win feels good, to be sure, but the principals involved must be a particular source of joy for the man known as "Dork Elvis." 

    Chandler Parsons, a second-rounder Morey inked to the most team-friendly contract in the league, poured in 23 points.

    Omer Asik, who Morey stole from the Bulls with a backloaded offer, registered 20 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks.

    Jeremy Lin, Morey's other controversial, poison-pill acquisition, dropped 20 points and 11 dimes.

    And James Harden, Morey's max-money man, added 26 points, five rebounds and six assists.

    The Rockets have pulled off one of the most difficult tricks in competitive sports: They've remade their roster and added star talent without bottoming out or luring a big-name free agent.

    Morey deserves immense praise for what he's done in Houston. Hopefully, he'll settle for being named a "winner" here.

     

    Loser: Carlos Boozer

    Six points. Six measly points.

    It's a tired refrain at this point, but Carlos Boozer just hasn't been the scorer the Bulls so desperately need him to be. His 3-for-11 performance against the Rockets wasn't his worst showing of the year, but it was perfectly emblematic of his disappointing lack of production this season.

    Without Derrick Rose around, the Bulls have gotten by with awesome defensive effort and a grind-it-out approach on offense. Boozer was supposed to be the man to pick up the scoring slack until Chicago's erstwhile MVP returned, but all he's done is slack off.

    With a $15 million price tag, the Bulls are eventually going to have to decide whether they'd like to lose Boozer via the amnesty provision.

Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Winner: The Clippers Bench

    The L.A. Clippers knocked off the Denver Nuggets by a dozen points and improved their record to 22-6, the best mark in the league.

    And the starting five didn't have a whole lot to do with it.

    L.A.'s bench put up 64 of the team's 112 points as the Clips jumped out to an early lead against the Nuggets before coasting to the finish.

    Matt Barnes put up 20 points on 15 shots, while Jamal Crawford tallied 22 of his own. And Eric Bledsoe brought his typical defensive peskiness but also added 12 points in just 16 minutes. Heck, even Lamar Odom had a nice game, finishing with six points, four assists and 10 rebounds.

    This depth won't matter nearly as much when the rotations shrink during the postseason, but if the Clips head into the playoffs as the West's No. 1 seed, they'll have their bench to thank.

    The Nuggets, usually the team trying to push the pace, simply couldn't keep up with L.A.'s tireless reserves.

     

    Loser: Danilo Gallinari

    Some of these have been tough, but thanks to Danilo Gallinari's 1-for-10 shooting performance, this game's loser is a no-brainer.

    Gallo, Denver's leading scorer, entered the Nuggets' Christmas tilt shooting a cringe-worthy 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from long range. It's safe to say those numbers are headed even lower after his abysmal night against the Clippers.

    Though the Nuggets shot the ball well as a team against L.A., their inability to space the floor with shooters has been a persistent problem all season long. Gallinari has been something of a symbol for the struggle, as his shooting (which has been on a five-year downward slide) has totally bottomed out this season.

    He missed all three of his triple tries, and the Nuggets made just three of 13 overall.

    Denver's playing better after a tough early schedule, but if Gallinari can't shake his shooting woes, the Nuggets are going to struggle to find any semblance of offensive balance.