LaMarcus Aldridge drained a jumper, backpedaled onto defense and tripped over an opponent’s legs – right into a reverse somersault that placed him back on his feet.
If the Spurs seemed upside down after Tim Duncan’s retirement, it hasn’t taken them long to right themselves.
And reach new heights.
LaMarcus Aldridge (33 points and nine rebounds) and Kawhi Leonard (25 points and 10 rebounds) led San Antonio to a 119-100 win over the Bulls today, the Spurs’ first Christmas home win in franchise history. San Antonio was 0-2, losing to the Thunder in 2014 and Rockets in 2013.
Aided by Aldridge’s pre-tumble shot, the Spurs raced to a 17-2 lead. Though Chicago fought back, San Antonio added 8-0 and 12-0 runs to pull away.
“I was just catching and shooting,” said Aldridge, who made his first 11 shots. “Coach has been telling me to try to find my shot more.”
The venue changed. So did the stakes. A very important player entered the equation.
But sixth months after their incredible seven-game NBA Finals, Warriors-Cavaliers once again ended with Cleveland players enveloping their star in jubilant hugs along the baseline as the buzzer sounded.
Kyrie Irving – who replaced LeBron James as the center of postgame attention – hit a heavily contested fadeaway over Klay Thompson with 3.4 seconds left to give the Cavs a 109-108 win an an instant Christmas classic.
Though this was only one regular-season game – Golden State won both regular-season matchups with Cleveland and 73 games last year – both teams played with incredible intensity in this budding rivalry. As much as both teams will downplay the significance, this was no ordinary regular-season game.
“It’s Christmas,” said a beaming Irving, who had 25 points, 10 assists, seven steals and six rebounds.
The Warriors nearly played Grinch. But just as they blew a 3-1 lead in last summer’s Finals, they blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and a three-point lead with the ball and 45 seconds left today.
Richard Jefferson ignited Cleveland by dunking on Kevin Durant in the fourth to end an 11-1 Golden State run – especially because Jefferson then received a technical foul for winking at Durant:
Jefferson’s dunk over Klay Thompson later in the period required no additional taunting:
By that point, the Cavaliers were right back in the game, and their confidence only grew.
LeBron James – who finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two steals – dunked as if he were trying to tear down the entire hoop:
They thought they answered that question last July.
Their league-altering newcomer excelled today. Durant scored 36 points, another excellent Christmas performance by the former Thunder star. He kept Golden State clicking as Curry started slow, and the question that hovered over the entire season gained prominence: How will anyone stop these Warriors? Stop one of their MVPs, and you still have to contend with the other. Golden State won the first, second and third quarters. And it’s not as if Curry just disappears. His 3-pointer untied the game with 1:14 left.
But, a possession later, Irving stole the ball and drove for a layup. Then, came a little controversy.
The Warriors’ penultimate possession ended in a clear shot-clock violation, but officials reviewed it anyway – giving the Cavs, who were out of timeouts, a chance to diagram a play. Golden State also subbed out Curry during the stoppage, which seemingly shouldn’t have been allowed and made it easier for Thompson to guard Irving. (Update: The NBA says the 24-second violation made a sub permissible.)
But Irving still hit the big shot against the Warriors – his second in two matchups, dating back to Game 7.
On Golden State’s final chance, Durant stumbled with the ball, and time ran out.
Welcome to the rivalry, KD. The Warriors’ talent keeps falling short against Cleveland’s perseverance.
That could change, of course. These teams face each other again in Oakland on Jan. 16. They could also meet in an unprecedented third straight finals.
After this hard-fought, exhilarating contest, that’d be a delight.
Kyrie Irving hits heavily contested game-winner for Cavaliers over Warriors (video)
Draymond Green was justifiably upset about this foul in the opening minutes of Warriors-Cavaliers, and he earned a technical foul. He also probably earned a second technical foul – which would’ve come with an ejection – by waving wildly and screaming from the bench, but officials called only one.
Why didn’t he get a second tech?
Celtics hold off Knicks in high-scoring Christmas opener
The Celtics beat the Knicks, 119-114, in the highest-scoring Christmas opener since the NBA expanded to a five-game Christmas schedule in 2008. The previous high-water mark in the early game, known for lethargic and sloppy performances, was New York’s 106-104 win over Boston in 2011. That was the only other time teams combined to score 200 in the first of five Christmas games.
“We got the win, so it was everything that I dreamed of,” said Thomas, who led Boston with 25 points in his first Christmas game.
The isolation-heavy Knicks just couldn’t keep up with the Celtics’ humming offense. Boston had 25 assists and eight turnovers. New York? Eleven assists and 17 turnovers.
Anthony scored 29, but hassled by Jae Crowder, he shot just 9-for-24 and fell short of 30 points for the first time in five Christmas games. Nice individual scoring by Derrick Rose (25 points) and Kristaps Porzingis (22 points) kept the Knicks in it.
New York (16-14) would’ve passed Boston (18-13) in the standings with a win, but the Celtics – who’ve won four straight and eight of nine against the Knicks – maintain the upper hand. Now, Boston moves onto challenging bigger fish – like the Cavaliers and Raptors.
“With that starting five healthy, we know we can be scary in the East,” Thomas said.
On the other hand, the Knicks – as competitive as they’ve been in years – must seek another source of validation after coming up short in this high-profile game.