If the NFL has Thanksgiving, the NBA has Christmas – the two holidays mark an annual marquee day in the leagues’ regular season calendar. It’s where non-playoff hard-fought battles, classic performances, and all-out duels are seen in wider lenses and hyped up more than usual.
This year, the NBA is treating fans to five exciting match-ups, and as always, each are backed up with a good chunk of varying storylines:
- Miami Heat vs. New Orleans Pelicans
- Milwaukee Bucks vs. Golden State Warriors
- Boston Celtics vs. Brooklyn Nets
- Denver Nuggets vs. LA Clippers
- Los Angeles Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks
It’s certainly geared up to give us a healthy dose of intense basketball on Christmas Day. Hopefully, all end up to be a regular season game for the ages.
To get us more pumped, here now are six classic Christmas Day games:
1972 – Kansas City-Omaha Kings vs. Milwaukee Bucks
This was during a golden age in Milwaukee Bucks basketball. They were only a season removed from winning the championship and were on their third-straight 60-win season. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was also among the league’s best players.
Over on the Kings’ side was another future all-timer: shifty point guard Nate “Tiny” Archibald. He was a third-year floor general and trailing a path towards a historic campaign. At the end of the season (1972-73), Tiny became the first and only NBA player to lead the league in points and assists. He proved it during this game by scoring 20 points and a Christmas Day-record 18 assists.
Not to be outdone, Kareem also delivered a good performance, tallying 32 points and 13 rebounds. The Bucks also won, 104-99.
1984 – New York Knicks vs. New Jersey Nets
It’s a classic New York showdown, but while no one knew it at that time, they were marching into very different paths – the Knicks will be one of the worst teams in the league that season while the Nets will make the playoffs and upset the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers in the first round.
Still, it’s good that we got this match-up. It featured two classic performances, with Nets star and ex-Knickerbocker Michael Ray Richardson blasting his former team for 36 points and four steals, and current Knicks star Bernard King pouring in a Christmas Day-record 60 points. King also set the scoring record at Madison Square Garden, which stood until 2009.
In the end, though, Richardson and the Nets took home the W, 120-114.
1994 – Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks
The Knicks and Bulls engaged in an intense rivalry during the 1990s, one that’s widely regarded as one of the fiercest in league history.
The Bulls had a lot of success in the match-up but things were a bit different in 1994. With Michael Jordan retired, Scottie Pippen was left to lead Chicago past New York’s bullies basically by himself. He and the Bulls fell short in the ’94 playoffs and got bounced in seven games.
The rematch was then rightfully scheduled on Christmas Day later that year. Scottie left it out all on the floor, boasting an all-around line of 30 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks. He not only scored all of Chicago’s seven overtime points, he also made a game-sealing block.
The Bulls won, 107-104.
2003 – Orlando Magic vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Witnessing the future test its mettle against the present is always interesting. That’s what we got in this 2003 match-up, as it pitted rookie 18-year-old LeBron James against reigning scoring champion Tracy McGrady. They went on a scoring duel as expected.
Possibly a foreshadowing of his eventual decorated career and the way he’ll carry Cleveland during his first Cavs stint, James racked up a team-high 36 points, six assists, two steals, and one block. T-Mac, however, already a veteran at that point, edged him out with 41 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, three steals, and one block.
The Magic won in overtime, 113-101.
2004 – Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat
This was one of the most memorable Christmas Day games of all-time, especially among hardcore NBA followers during the mid-2000s. It was the much-anticipated clash between former Laker teammates Shaquille O’Neal and the late great Kobe Bryant, who formed a dynamic duo and won championships, but also beefed until they can’t be in the same locker room anymore. By 2004, it was deemed to be unrepairable, so the Lakers dealt Shaq to Miami in prior to the 2004-05 season.
The game lived up to the hype and more as it went into an extra period and came down to the final shot, which was an even bigger nail-biter as Bryant almost buried a game-winning, fall-away three-pointer. Kobe scored a game-high 42 points, while Shaq had 24 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks.
The Heat won in overtime, 104-102.
2016 – Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
Christmas has become the go-to day to hold the first finals rematch of the regular season, and nothing was perhaps more intriguing than the 2016 edition. The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers won the title six months prior by rallying from a 3-1 series deficit. Then, while the defeated Warriors were getting meme’d into oblivion, they signed superstar MVP Kevin Durant to evolve into an even scarier juggernaut.
The vengeful Warriors controlled the pace of the game well and eventually jumped into a 14-point lead with only 9:35 left, but it slowly dwindled as the Cavs showed resiliency yet again. Kyrie Irving completed the comeback by scoring two unanswered baskets over the last 45 seconds, erasing the Dubs’ three-point lead.
Irving filled the stat sheet with 25 points, six rebounds, 10 assists, and a career-high seven steals, while LeBron James scored 31 to go along 13 boards. Kevin Durant, meanwhile, led the Warriors with 36 points.