NBA on Christmas Day: Historic Feats on Both Sides as Heat Beat Pelicans

By Terrance Turner

Every Christmas, basketball fans get a gift: a slate of five NBA games. The Miami Heat and New Orleans Pelicans opened this year’s series at American Airlines Arena. Though the Pelicans battled mightily — and even narrowed the lead to five — the Miami Heat went on a late run to seal a dominant win. The Heat won, 111-98. It’s their first win of the season.

The Heat led by as much as 23 in the first half. The high-powered offense was helped by small forward Duncan Robinson, who had six three-pointers before halftime. That’s the most three-pointers in a first half on Christmas in NBA history. The home team drilled 13 three-pointers in the first half alone, also a record.

But the Pelicans fought back. With about three minutes left in the half, Zion Williamson fought for his own rebound and then made a basket to top an 8-0 Pelicans run. He and Ingram helped New Orleans go on a 15-3 run to narrow the lead. The game was 66-53 at the half.

In the second half, Miami maintained its lead throughout. But New Orleans again threatened to overpower them. Williamson and Ingram combined to mount a formidable Pelicans surge. With six minutes left in the third quarter, the two had scored 24 of the last 26 points for their team. According to Bleacher Report, Ingram’s ability to hit from the outside all while gliding through the defense to get to the free-throw line helped keep the offense afloat. Williamson also overpowered Miami’s bigs on multiple occasions, who couldn’t do much more than foul the Duke product as they attempted to prevent him from taking over.”

As the quarter’s final minutes ticked down, the two got some help from Josh Hart. With just 1:57 left in the third quarter, Hart had a nifty steal from the Heat and then a dunk to make it 81-70. He also hit the first three by either team in the third quarter to cut the Heat’s lead to ten. The score was 83-73. Ingram turned a nifty two-pointer into a three-point play — and then hit a three with 0.6 left to make it 79-88 as the third quarter ended.

Things slowed down conserably in the fourth quarter, with fouls and turnovers by both teams. Pelicans player Eric Bledsoe delivered a hip-check to the Heat’s Bam Adebayo as they battled for the ball. Somehow this play necessitated a three-minute review to determine whether the common foul was flagrant. After much discussion, the referees decided that it was indeed a flagrant 1. That gave Miami two shots and ball possession. Commentator Richard Jefferson disagreed with the call, and so did many NBA fans:

On a brighter note, J.J. Redick finally hit a three of his own, cutting the Heat’s lead to six: 91-85. That set a record: Redick has the most career three-pointers on Christmas Day in NBA history. But in the end, New Orleans was no match for Miami. The Heat went on a 16-3 run in the fourth quarter to win, 111-98. Miami standouts Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, and Avery Bradley scored key baskets down the stretch. Six Heat players in all finished in double figures, per Bleacher Report. Among them:

  • Duncan Robinson, F, MIA: 23 PTS, 5 REB, 7-of-13 3PT
  • Bam Adebayo, C, MIA: 17 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL
  • Goran Dragic, G, MIA: 18 PTS, 9 AST, 4 STL

By contrast, Josh Hart was the only Pelicans player to score more than eight points. Ingram finished with 28 points, and Williamson had 32 (with 14 rebounds). Zion Williamson is one of only two players to score 30 points on Christmas before turning 21. The other player to achieve that feat? LeBron James.

Lakers Win NBA Championship (UPDATED)

By Terrance Turner

Oct. 11, 2020 (Updated Nov. 20, Dec. 22)

The Los Angeles Lakers have won the NBA Championship. The Lakers won Game 6 after a commanding Finals performance, defeating the Miami Heat 106-93. This is the 17th championship for the franchise (tied for the most all-time). The Lakers reacted with jubilance to the win, with player J.R. Smith shedding his shirt and celebrating with teammates:

The team led consistently throughout the game’s fourth quarter, leading by over 20 points. They led by as much as 30 points during the first half, according to ESPN. It was a major bounce back after a disappointing loss in the Game 5, and it capped a memorable and hard-fought series. LeBron James won NBA Finals MVP after rallying the Lakers to win the final series 4-2. James logged a triple-double — 28 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists, per ESPN — to help power the Lakers past a scrappy, challenging Miami Heat (his former team).

LeBron James is the first player ever to win a championship with three different teams.

James won back-to-back rings with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013. The next year, he returned to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The move drew much attention, given James’s highly publicized (and sharply criticized) decision to leave the Cavaliers in 2010. But after winning back-to-back championships in Miami, James came back home. And in the 2016 NBA Finals, he powered the Cavs back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Warriors. The Golden State Warriors were a “superteam” — a juggernaut that had won 73 games (!!!) in the regular season. But James and Cavs somehow prevailed, winning the NBA Championship. It was Cleveland’s first pro sports title since 1964. It was James’ third ring. This is his fourth.

But this time was different.

The championship has a different impact this year, for many reasons. But a major reason that this win means so much is because of the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer. In a chaotic, grueling year that saw the heartbreaking loss of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, the Lakers winning the title was the only appropriate way for this NBA season to end.

“I can not let him down,” Lakers player Anthony Davis said of Bryant, to whom he was close. The Lakers dedicated the O’Brien Trophy to Bryant, who perished along with his daughter in a helicopter crash in January. After a tragic, difficult year for Lakers fans, the win is a much-needed balm. But it also was a rebound for the Lakers after missing the playoffs last season. In his postgame interview, James stated that “the organization want their respect, Laker Nation want their respect — and I want my damn respect, too.”

The win has added significance because of the context of this remarkable year. The team played three months in “the bubble” — a sprawling Disney complex in Orlando, Florida — because of the coronavirus. (Nobody was allowed to leave the area; there was regular testing for COVID-19.) The NBA Finals came after a historic boycott: the players all sat out their games in response to the near-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake. It was a year also marked by active protests by NBA players after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. James was particularly vocal about the treatment of Black people and the fear they experience:

The Lakers had hoped to win wearing Bryant’s “Black Mamba” jerseys, but lost Game 5 after taking a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Davis told a reporter later that the loss motivated them to play even harder: “It made us come out even more aggressive, even more powerful,” Davis said. This is Anthony Davis’ first NBA Championship. It is also the first NBA championship for 35-year-old Lakers center Dwight Howard. After 16 years in the league, this is Howard’s first NBA ring. He grew emotional after the win. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams,” he urged his followers. “I swear to God, don’t never give up on yourself.”

NBA Players Launch Historic Boycott for Jacob Blake

By Terrance Turner

The shooting of unarmed Black man Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday has led to a historic move. In response to the shooting, the Milwaukee Bucks — who play just 40 miles north of Kenosha — decided to sit out tonight’s Game 5. The Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, and Portland Trail Blazers all boycotted their scheduled games tonight. There will be no NBA playoff basketball tonight.

Moreover, the boycott may stretch beyond tonight. ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted earlier today: “Emotions are raw, players were already worn out of bubble environment prior to the Jacob Blake shooting and sources say discussions within teams [involve] postponing tomorrow’s three games too — and beyond. ‘The season is in jeopardy,’ one vet player here told ESPN.”

Tonight, players met in the NBA bubble to discuss the situation. NBA Insider Shams Charania said tonight that the Lakers and Clippers voted to end the NBA season. Lakers star LeBron James reportedly walked out of the meeting, joined by players from both L.A. teams. According to NBA writer Vince Goodwill, his frustration stemmed in part from the fact that the Bucks initiated the boycott without letting others know. Further action will be taken tomorrow, at the Board of Governors meeting.

The shooting occurred on Aug. 23. Police were called to the scene of a domestic incident at 5:11 pm, in the Wilson Heights neighborhood of Kenosha, according to a police report. The Wisconsin Department of Justice notes the police were called to the neighborhood by a woman who requested assistance because “her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.” According to Vox, “In dispatch audio of the incident, a dispatcher can be heard saying, “Jacob Blake isn’t supposed to be there and he took the complainant’s keys and is refusing to give them back.”

It was Officer Rusten Sheskey who pulled the trigger. (Sheskey, 31, has been the subject of five internal investigations since he joined the Kenosha department in 2013, including reprimands for crashing his squad car three times in three years. He has also earned 16 awards, letters or formal commendations.) Cellphone video of the incident shows Blake walking to the driver’s side door of an SUV as officers follow him, shouting, with guns drawn. As Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, Sheskey grabs his shirt from behind and opens fire. Blake was shot seven times in the back — in front of his children.

Following the shooting, several witnesses told Kenosha News that Blake was trying to break up a “verbal altercation” between two women just after 5 pm. By 5:15, there were three officers on the scene. According to the Associated Press, “The Kenosha police union said Blake was armed with a knife, and Sheskey ordered him several times to drop it but he would not. Sheskey’s attorney, Brendan Matthews, said Sheskey fired because Blake started turning toward the officer while holding a knife.” Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley chose to believe the officers.

UPDATE (Jan. 5): Kenosha D.A. Michael Graveley announced today that there will be no charges of the officers in this case. Sheskey will face no criminal charges; neither will the two officers present when the shooting took place. Graveley said Blake was clearly armed with a knife and had admitted having it. He further claimed that Sheskey fired the gun after Blake motioned towards him with the knife. But these claims are difficult to prove, as officers wore no body cameras.

Blake’s death sparked protests across the country. Windows were smashed, and garbage trucks were set on fire. One protest in Kenosha, which took place two days after the shoooting, turned deadly. Protesters clashed with a group of armed men who claimed to be “protecting” property. One of them was 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse. Video of the incident shows a man, allegedly Rittenhouse, running down the street with an AR-15-style rifle as he’s pursued by others attempting to apprehend him. Rittenhouse falls to the ground, then turns around and begins shooting at the people trying to disarm him. (He killed two of them. Rittenhouse pled not guilty to homicide charges today.)

After the shooting, the man with the rifle walks away from the scene toward law enforcement, according to a video viewed by Kenosha News. In the video, a bystander frantically yells to the officers that the man with the rifle shot someone. “Hey, he just shot them,” the man screams. However, law enforcement officials drive directly past the man with the gun.

When asked why officers did not immediately apprehend Rittenhouse, Kenosha Sheriff David G. Beth answered, “In situations that are high-stress, you have such incredible tunnel vision.” Tunnel vision did not prevent officers from firing seven times at Blake, over a knife. But it did prevent them from arresting a 17-year-old who killed two people with an illegally possessed gun.