The five-game slate of Christmas Day NBA games had the fans thirsty for the marquee matchups. Well, except the Warriors and Rockets game. That looked like a two-hour break for the viewing public to spend some time with their family, or watch a movie.
The NBA even scheduled it that way, putting it right in the middle. Turns out, it was a blowout—but it was the underdog Warriors embarrassing the Houston Rockets 116-104.
Steve Kerr said it was definitely the best win of the season so far:
“Well yeah, but there haven’t been that many to choose from… I think the great thing about this season is that the fans can feel our players effort. So even though we’re 8-24, the results haven’t been what we had hoped, I think the fans see how hard our guys are playing and how together they are. And I thought today was just an example of the hard work paying off and the perseverance.”
Kerr and the coaching staff came in with an obvious game plan and the young team executed it flawlessly. And that was to trap James Harden and get the ball out of his hands immediately.
The plan started from the opening tip and they held Harden to three points in the first quarter. Glenn Robinson III got the first assignment on Harden, but the Warriors also sent D’Angelo Russell to double him every possession.
It was a gameplan that put the pressure on the other Rockets, Russell said:
“You know what he does every night. You know what his averages are, you watch on TV, you watch on League Pass, you watch what he does and the way he dominates the game. So, for us it was throwing something different at him, putting other guys in position to make plays, something that they don’t do every night, that’s not their game plan.”
It resulted in a couple turnovers and also forced Russell Westbrook to put his head down and drive into the defense, which is exactly what the Warriors want. Westbrook put up 30 points, but shot just 11-of-32 from the field, the quintessential Westbrook line, that Golden State aimed to bait him into.
Harden was able to get loose for some easy looks, when the traps became lazy or slow and easily navigated where and when they were coming from, which led to a lot of open shots. And when they took off the double team, Harden cooked whoever was in front of him.
However those chances were few and far between, as the trap took the ball out of his hands for most of the game. It wasn’t just getting that initial pass out of the trap from Harden, but it was the fact that once he gave it up at halfcourt, he would just stand around as Clint Capela or Westbrook would drive recklessly into the waiting Draymond Green.
Kerr said it’s a new situation to have to come up with new defensive schemes this season:
“Our team the last five years have had a lot of great defenders and we haven’t had to try a whole lot of different things because our base defense was good. We had guys like Andre and Shaun and Kevin Durant and we could play straight up. With this team we’ve had to try new things, and it’s a challenge for the players, it’s a challenge for the coaches, but doing it all together makes it fun.”
Harden’s shooting percentages were high, and he dished out 11 assists, but one column in the box score was notably barren. He didn’t shoot a single free throw until eight minutes to go in the game, and finished with just one, which he missed. During the lead-up to the game, almost everyone in the Warriors organization mentioned the need to keep their hands back and avoid fouls—and that’s exactly what they did.
Green credited assistant Jarron Collins, who took over the defensive gameplans this season, for this win:
“I think our defense has really picked up, and we are doing a better job of following the gameplan. It’s been a rough year. Consistency on the defensive end is just as important as on the offensive end. I think Jarron’s been doing a great job, especially today, of putting together a gameplan that we stick to and be great at. And you got to give him a lot of credit for this win because that gameplan was phenomenal today.”
Someone else was racking up free throws though, he just happened to be in a Warriors jersey, as Damion Lee led the way with 10 free throws.
Lee went off in the second quarter for 17 points and entered the half already with a double-double in his pocket with a career-high tying 11 boards and chipped in three assists, he would finish the game with 22 points and 15 boards. He gave the Rockets and namely Harden a taste of their own medicine as he piled up 10 free throws in the second quarter.
Green said that Lee has consistently made an impact this season:
“It’s not just a night, he’s been playing very well before the injury and since he’s been back. He’s making it tough on people, whether it’s our front office or other front offices, he’s really putting his name in the conversation as a piece on any team in this league.
He also got help from his starting lineup mates.
D’Angelo Russell showed off his midrange game with 20 points coming on a wide array of pull ups, floaters and layups. He shot 8-of-19, but he was actually an automatic 7-of-9 on two-pointers.
Glenn Robinson returned from his one game absence with a rolled ankle to score 18 points and along with Green put the game away with a two clutch 3’s. Robinson is up to 39 percent from deep and his stroke is looking cleaner and quicker, and is really showing that he should be in the Warriors’ future plans.
The bright lights of Christmas also brought the return of fully engaged Draymond Green. After last game he talked about good it felt winning two games in a row, and you could feel how much he’s been fiending for a game with stakes.
The closest he’s going to get this season was this national television showcase that the NBA couldn’t flex out of. And if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s Green playing his absolute best when the lights are the brightest.
He went off for 20 points and 11 boards, while absolutely frustrating the entire Houston Rockets offense. It’s the first time he’s topped 20 points this season, and it’s not really a surprise he did it against the Rockets.
And he capped the game with two big time 3’s, which again, is no shock.‘
Green has had Houston’s number since he came into the league, and it continued Wednesday, when he gifted Warriors fans the biggest win of the season for Christmas.
Green who was extremely happy after the win last game, was beaming once again:
“It’s been a really trying season for us, and to come out Christmas day, everyone is watching, or no one was watching us, that’s possible too, and to come out and actually get a win. It’s a lot of these guys first time playing on Christmas, that’s a huge stage. And to come out and execute like we did and actually get a win against a very good basketball team, it definitely feels good.”
The games just keep coming during the last days of the 2019, with the Warriors getting a one-day break before the Phoenix Suns come to Chase Friday.
Of the 13 players that were active for the Christmas day game, 10 of them had never played on Christmas day before Wednesday, including every single player on the Warriors bench. Only Draymond Green, D’Angelo Russell and Damion Lee have been apart of the holiday showcase before. … According to ESPN stats, the Warriors were 11.5 point underdogs at Caesars Sportsbook, and with the win became the largest upset on Christmas Day over the last 30 seasons. The next closest was the 2015 Bulls, who beat the Thunder after being 9.5 point underdogs.