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NBA ICYMI: Kevin Durant Ruined LeBron’s Christmas

The Thunder get a signature win, Joel Embiid wins the unicorn battle, and more from Monday in the NBA

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors Photo by Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Everything you need to know about the Christmas Day NBA slate.

Kevin Durant Does It All

Paolo Uggetti: Without Steph Curry, still out with an ankle injury, the Warriors have taken the brunt of their offensive load and asked their other stars to fulfill it. When that duo is Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, it’s just as easily said as it is done. KD and Klay combined for 49 of the Warriors’ points in their 99–92 win over the Cavaliers on Monday. Only one other Warriors player (Draymond Green, who had a triple-double) scored in double digits, but it didn’t matter because Golden State sealed the area in and around the paint like an airtight container. The Cavs couldn’t score at the rim.

That’s where Durant’s presence was felt most—where he protected the space like he had been hired by Oracle as a bouncer to not allow anyone, especially not LeBron, through.

Durant finished with five blocks, and down the stretch he had the arduous task of trying to stop LeBron. KD made it known he wanted the role, and though there are questions about whether he fouled LeBron, not once but twice, KD kept the King from scoring on back-to-back possessions:

Foul or no foul, while the Warriors nearly gave away a game they should have dominated, Durant locked it down and continued to carry a Golden State team without its anchor.

Sleeveless Melo Unlocks the Thunder's Shooting

Haley O’Shaughnessy: Oklahoma City beat Houston, 112-107, with its … shooting (?).

Russell Westbrook started a feeble 2-for-12 from the field (taking six shots before making a single one), then hit 10 of his following 12. Carmelo Anthony (who took off his shooting sleeve for the first time since infant Melo was moved to the nursery) had his most accurate performance this season, making two-thirds of his 12 shots from the field. Paul George went 8-for-15 overall. That’s 75 combined points from the Thunder trio. That’s the productivity Sam Presti traded for.

But Houston also wasn’t looking its best. James Harden began on a flatter note, and ended on it, too. Here’s his last shot:

Chris Paul sat out with a groin injury. Clint Capela missed two crucial free throws down three with 1:31 left. But this, a prime-time, nationally televised game that everyone watched to either bond with or escape from their families, was still the signature win Billy Donovan and the Thunder needed. It was also [cue the ah, that’s interesting! Russ gif] OKC’s fifth consecutive win.

Eric Gordon, The Grinch Who Stole This Assist

O’Shaughnessy: James Harden’s pass, which was thrown between two defenders to make its way from the baseline out to the perimeter, would’ve been an instant contender for assist of the year. Gordon, who won the All-Star 3-point contest last February, is in the middle of his worst outside shooting season since 2012-13 with New Orleans, and the third-worst of his career. The 29-year-old vet (whose birthday is today; happy birthday, Eric! Sorry for calling you a Grinch!) is making 34.9 percent of his 3-point attempts on the year.

(Chalk some of that up to the volume at which the Rockets are pulling the trigger from deep. Gordon is averaging a career-high 9.5 attempts. That’s second in the NBA to only Harden, naturally.)

Which, speaking of the Beard—

—he finished with a game-high 14 assists.

The Best Joel

Uggetti: After returning from a ongoing back injury against the Raptors and playing only 23 minutes, Joel Embiid wanted a Christmas gift: no minutes restriction. Brett Brown complied. Embiid played 34 minutes and gifted the Sixers, and all of us, with a 25-point, 16-rebound, three-block performance as part of a 105–98 Philly victory.

The matinee matchup of the Christmas slate immediately turned into a prime-time-caliber show that Embiid dominated. On an off day for Ben Simmons, nearly every aspect of Philly’s offense ran through Embiid, and it felt like every other possession ended with his back to the rim, ball in his hands. Embiid made it work, and the Sixers needed him to. He was a plus-25.

Embiid topped it off with a dagger: a corner 3 that kickstarted the cascading “Trust the Process!” chants at the Garden. Should he keep playing like this, it’s Embiid’s world, no matter where he goes.

Washington’s Big Three Showed Up Against Boston

O’Shaughnessy: Twas three days before Christmas, and the Nets dropped a 35-point win on Washington.

On Monday, the Wizards beat Boston, the frontrunners of the Eastern Conference, 111-103. The topsy-turvyness is typical of late for Scott Brooks’s squad, which hasn’t gone on a winning or losing streak for longer than two games since mid-November. (Of course, John Wall being out for three weeks played a major part in that.) But the Wizards rose to the national TV occasion.

The Wizards’ big three more than managed against Boston’s top-ranked defense: Otto Porter Jr. scored 12 points in the third quarter to push Washington ahead by four, ending up with three 3s and 20 points. John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 46.

(“Big three” might be a stretch of a name for Washington’s young and paid stars on Monday. Of the group, only Porter finished with a successful deep shot. And excepting him and Markieff Morris, the rest of the roster went 1-for-18.)

John Wall Wants the New Kyries for Christmas

O’Shaughnessy: Thank you, NBA, for having the foresight to mic up Wall on a night he’s facing the Eastern Conference point guard he is most pitted against in “who’s better” debates. Here, Wall—who still, somehow, does not have a shoe deal—asks Irving: “Can I get the Kyries?”

The shoes are nice, but then again, so is a little shade.

Jimmy Butler Blew By Kyle Kuzma ...

… But Kyle Kuzma Made Up for It

O’Shaughnessy: Kuzma finished with a game-high 31 points in the Lakers’ 121-104 loss to Minnesota, the most that a rookie dropped on Christmas since a kid from Akron in 2003. He shot 55 percent from the perimeter, drained six 3-pointers, and made it to the charity stripe 13 times.

Kuzma played 41 minutes to accommodate the Lakers’ injury list: Both Lonzo Ball (shoulder sprain) and Brook Lopez (ankle) were out.

Winner Winner BBQ Chicken Dinner

O’Shaughnessy: First Karl-Anthony Towns propelled Corey Brewer out of Staples Center and into the new year. Then he added insult—a Shaq insult—to injury, yelling out “BBQ chicken” and pretending to munch on a drumstick.

KAT was paying homage to the NBA on TNT crew, who had moved from typical studio show digs to spend Wolves/Lakers as announcers in the booth. Towns finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal, four blocks, and the most encouraging bout of second-half defense he’s shown all year.

Can Play Kanter

Uggetti: Enes Kanter belongs in New York City. We just didn’t know it until this season.

Monday’s game allowed Kanter to prove that he’s thriving as a Knick. Even in a loss, Kanter delivered a career night. In 36 minutes, he scored 31 points and grabbed 22 boards. Twenty-two!

In the third quarter, he gave Embiid a run for his well-earned money inside the paint, and gave the Sixer his trash-talking match as well. Kristaps Porzingis and Embiid may have been the nominal matchup, but Embiid and Kanter was the one for the junkies, and Kanter brought more than just his chitchat to the Garden.

A Christmas Block Party

Uggetti: Here’s a pro tip: Don’t drive the lane and try to score on Joel Embiid at the rim:

Here’s another one (looking at you, Embiid): Don’t drive the lane and try to score on Porzingis, who had five blocks, at the rim:

… OK, unless you’re Ben Simmons:

Presents From Kyrie

Markelle Surprise?

Uggetti: TBD on what this is. It may be — like some of my coworkers (who shall remain nameless) believe Fultz’s shoulder issue is — nothing at all.

A Christmas Miracle: Michael Beasley Passes Up an Open 3

Uggetti: [Extremely Rocky Voice] If I can change and you can change, everybody can change.

Revisionist History

Uggetti: Isaiah Thomas is returning to a court near you in 2018. But in an interview with ESPN broadcasted Monday, he closed the book on his Celtics tenure by revealing that, were he to do it again and know how things would turn out, he would have sat out of last season’s playoffs altogether due to his hip injury.

A Draymond Green Carol

Uggetti: Siiiiiilent night

Troooooooolling night

All is calm

All is fight

Clear the Land-ing Strip

How Did the Cavs Not Get Blown Out?

Uggetti: Two words, one name: Kevin Love

The Cavs’ bench shot 6-of-26. LeBron had “only” 20 points. The team as a whole shot only 31.8 percent from the field. And yet, on the back of Kevin Love exploding for 31 points — most notably making six 3s — and 18 rebounds, they kept pace with the Golden State juggernaut until the end.

Quietly, but surely, Love didn’t just have his best game against the Warriors of his Cavs’ career, he’s also been having one of his best seasons as a Cav. He’s deserving of an All-Star spot.

The (Younger) Man in the Mirror

The Giving Spirit Does Not Include Rebounds

O’Shaughnessy: Boston outrebounded the Wizards on the defensive end, 37-33 (despite that Keef-to-Otto play), but gave up a damning 14 offensive boards.

Terry Rozier Climbs the Rockefeller Tree