The NBA regular season never lacks action. One of the highlights of each season is the games that headline during the holidays.
NBA Christmas Day games have always been a treat for the fans. To some, these games could be a potential preview of the Finals. The league does a tremendous job in scheduling the matchups that would generate extreme fan interest. The format has been effective for fans and players to put on an incredible show. The intensity of each game ensures its must-watch television, making it a night of entertainment for all spectators.
This year, there will be five games on Christmas Day, and fans are excited to see what each team has in store. But before we drool over this year’s contests, let’s go back and reminisce about the five best Christmas Day games in NBA history.
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2011: Chicago Bulls 88, Los Angeles Lakers 87
The shortened 2011-12 season was due to a lockout that lasted for 161 days and resulted in a shorter season. From the usual 82 games, the season started on Christmas Day with a solid 66-game schedule. Out of the five games, the match between the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers was one of the most entertaining.
Fresh from an MVP season, Derrick Rose led the Bulls to a tough win against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. The bout was close, and both stars displayed incredible competitiveness. Rose had 22 points, five assists, and a clutch floater to seal the win. Bryant didn’t back down as he answered with 28 points, six assists, and seven rebounds. The Black Mamba tried to go for the win, but Luol Deng’s incredible defense didn’t allow it.
1994: Chicago Bulls 107, New York Knicks 104
In 1994, the Bulls were without superstar Michael Jordan, who was in the middle of his first retirement. Still, they did everything to win against one of their Eastern Conference rivals. Their Christmas Day matchup against the New York Knicks was intense, as the last time they played was during the East semis. During the grueling seven-game series, the Knicks were the ones who came out on top.
The Bulls sought revenge for their loss and proved they could be a threat even without MJ. It was Scottie Pippen who led the team to victory. The two-way star scored 36 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. Additionally, Pippen had five steals, proving he can perform at an all-time level on both ends of the floor. His performance didn’t go unanswered as Patrick Ewing and company made it tough for them. Ewing had 30 points and 13 rebounds.
2004: Miami Heat 104, Los Angeles Lakers 102
This Christmas Day matchup was intense, through and through. The bout between the Lakers and the Miami Heat came after Shaquille O’Neal’s trade to South Beach. In exchange, Los Angeles received Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and a first-round pick, which turned out to be Jordan Farmar. The hype was immense because of the brewing feud between O’Neal and the late Kobe Bryant.
Entering the game, Miami was in the middle of a ten-game winning streak. Los Angeles tried their best to end the run but came up short. Bryant did all he could to will the Lakers to a win, scoring 42 points and dishing out six assists. His former teammate was his dominant self, scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Dwyane Wade came up big defensively as he contested the Black Mamba’s attempt at a game-winner in overtime.
2013: Golden State Warriors 105, Los Angeles Clippers 103
Unlike the other rivalries in this list, the animosity between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t last long. However, their Christmas Day matchup was intense and belongs on this list for being one of the best. Stephen Curry was coming off an impressive season where he was snubbed of an All-Star appearance, while Chris Paul led Los Angeles into contention with a stacked team.
The entire bout was physical, and fans thought the rivalry between the two would last. Blake Griffin and Draymond Green were both ejected in the second half. During the last seconds of the game, Jamal Crawford attempted a three-pointer to win the game for the Clippers but missed. After that, a scuffle between Paul and Andrew Bogut ensued, causing a final shoving match between the teams.
Their Christmas Day game previewed a grueling seven-game series that took place later in the playoffs, which only continued the rivalry.
2016: Cleveland Cavaliers 109, Golden State Warriors 108
Out of the rivalries that started in the 2010s, the bitterness of both teams toward each other was exceptional. The Cleveland Cavaliers were coming off their title win against the Warriors after being down 3-1. On the other hand, Golden State sought recruitment by signing Kevin Durant during the offseason, shifting the balance in their favor. It was Durant’s first taste of the Cavs-Warriors rivalry.
The entire game was close and highly energized. As the matchup’s conclusion closed in, the superstars took their performance to a different level. KD had 36 points and 15 rebounds, while Klay Thompson had 24 points for the Warriors.
Kyrie Irving’s late-game heroics helped the Cavs seal the win. Cleveland’s big three had a great outing during their Christmas Day bout. Irving had 25 points and ten assists, Kevin Love had 20 points and six rebounds, and LeBron James had a big night, scoring 31 and grabbing 13 rebounds.
Both teams would face each other in the finals for the third time, but the Warriors would end up victors.