OAKLAND, Calif. (TNS) — A smile formed on Kevin Durant's face as if he received his best Christmas gift yet. The Warriors' forward pumped his chest passionately. Durant wagged his right index finger ferociously. Then, Durant clapped his hands repeatedly.
Durant had just performed something that he considered an impossible task earlier this week. Durant stopped LeBron James. The Cleveland forward drove past Durant at the top of the key. James went up for a shot. And then Durant extended his 6-foot-9 frame and seemingly infinite wingspan to stuff James at the rim.
Plenty of plays led up to the Warriors securing a 99-92 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday at Oracle Arena. Durant's block, though, represented what Warriors coach Steve Kerr considered a "huge" reason why the Warriors (27-7) spent their work day basking in holiday cheer nearly 18 months after giving the Cavaliers (24-10) some coal in the form of an NBA Finals defeat. The Warriors led, 95-92, with 26.5 seconds left when Durant stopped James. Warriors guard Klay Thompson then kept the lead intact with making all four of his free-throws on the next two possessions.
"You can't stop those guys; they're going to make good plays and get shots over you and get to the rim," said Durant, who had 25 points on 8-of-19 shooting, seven rebounds, five blocks and three assists. "It's a full game you got to put together. You can't get discouraged. I try to play hard every second I'm out there."
So in a game that featured nine ties and seven lead changes, the Warriors clocked in to work on a day most take off to enjoy the holiday.
In what marked his first of potentially many starts even with center Zaza Pachulia on the active roster, Warriors forward Jordan Bell compensated for two late-game turnovers with a rebound off Durant's missed 3-point attempt. Kerr considered the play a turning point considering Bell passed the ball back to Warriors forward Draymond Green to set up Thompson for an open 3-pointer.
Not only did Thompson drain the shot to give the Warriors a 95-92 lead with 1:33 remaining. The play captured Thompson's improved efficiency. He finished with 24 points while shooting 8-of-15 from the field and 4-of-7 from 3-point range, two days after shooting 6-of-24 from the field and 1-of-10 from the perimeter against Denver.
"I just had to let it go. It was that simple," Thompson said. "That was a team effort right there. I try to take great shots. It doesn't really change from the rest of the game. You want to be patient and you want to get a great look every time."
It appeared James would have a good look on every possession. Then Durant picked up James outside of the perimeter. Just when James drove left toward the basket, he lost control of the ball. James also fell to the ground, with replays showing some contact with Durant before taking the fall.
"It felt clean. The same dudes that are arguing on Twitter are probably at [the local gym] saying that wasn't a foul," Durant said. "They've been in a position before, but not on Christmas at Oracle Arena."
Embiid's 25 points, 16 rebounds lead Sixers past Knicks
NEW YORK (TNS) — The 76ers needed this.
Monday's 105-98 victory over the New York Knicks snapped a five-game losing streak. It was marked just their second win in 11 games. But the Sixers (15-18) were far from surprised. They actually identified the Christmas Day game at Madison Square Garden as the one that would get them back on track.
They even had a boost from having their normal starting lineup for the first time in five games.
JJ Redick returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games with right hamstring tightness. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid played in his second consecutive matchup after missing the previous three with back tightness.
Both of them had solid performances.
Embiid finished with 25 points, 16 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and six turnovers for his 15th double-double of the season. Redick added 24 points while making 4 of 8 three-pointers. Backup point guard T.J. McConnell also had a big game, finishing with 15 points.
Those three helped the Sixers do something they normally struggle to accomplish: Closeout a game.
McConnell hit a pull-up jumper which gave the Sixers a nine-point lead (86-77) with 8 minutes, 59 seconds remaining.
However, the Knicks went on a 12-3 run to knot the score on Kristaps Porzingis' three-point play with 5:20 left.
The Sixers, however, responded with a 7-0 run to take a 96-89 after a Redick three-pointer at the 3:30 mark.
The Knicks kept attempting runs. However, the Sixers kept answering. Ben Simmons' breakaway dunk with 1:06 left gave his team a 103-95 cushion.
The point guard finished with eight points, eight rebounds, three assists and two turnovers. Early on, Simmons was quiet. He only had two points and one assist at intermission. His biggest accomplishment during that time was switching from his green Christmas Day edition sneakers to a red pair late in the second quarter.
Knicks center Enes Kanter finished with game highs of 31 points and 22 rebounds. Porzingis added 22 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks.