Ranking the 10 Best Christmas Day Games in NBA History
photo via toums-bball.blogspot.com
If you're anything like me, you spend most of your Christmas Day trying to avoid awkward social interaction with relatives you barely know while desperately attempting to sneak away and watch basketball.
Unfortunately for me, my family demands my undivided attention for most of the day, including the 5 p.m. ET headliner at which time I will undoubtedly be eating a dinner so early it should probably be called lunch.
But that doesn't mean you won't get to watch basketball. Christmas Day has become to the NBA what Thanksgiving is to the NFL: their marquee regular-season date. Whether it's an NBA Finals rematch or a chance to put two big-market rivals head-to-head, Christmas has always been a sure bet for some great basketball.
Even bigger are the pregame storylines, the hype alone usually makes the headline game the undisputed marquee matchup of the year.
With that being said, here are the 10 biggest Christmas Day games in NBA history.
No. 10: New York Knicks vs. Providence Steamrollers, 1947
The Providence Steamrollers no longer exist. In fact, they lasted all of four years, folding in 1949 after the world apparently realized that Rhode Island isn't big enough to sustain a professional lacrosse team, much less an NBA team.
But that doesn't mean they should be historically ignored. In fact, they took part in one of the most important regular season games in league history.
In 1947, the Steamrollers traveled to New York to play the Knicks in what was the first of many Christmas Day games the league would host going forward.
The Knicks won a forgettable 89-75 game, but ratings did well enough to start one of the league's best traditions.
No. 9: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 2000
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Rasheed Wallace stole the show in a highly-anticipated rematch between the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and their Western Conference finals opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers.
Wallace scored 33 points in a 109-104 victory for the Blazers. The win meant quite a bit more for the Blazers considering the circumstances that led to it.
The Lakers came back from a 15-point deficit late in the fourth quarter in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals to steal a spot in the NBA Finals straight out from under the Blazers.
Then, when they got their chance for a rematch at home, the Lakers beat up the Blazers 96-86.
It may not have happened when it mattered, but the Blazers finally got a big win over the Lakers.
No. 8: Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks, 2011
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This game may not seem too important. Nobody was particularly interested in the Mavericks with Tyson Chandler and several role players wearing different uniforms, but off of the court it was a pretty significant game.
First of all, we almost lost the 2011-2012 season entirely. This game served as an emphatic return for the league with a rematch of the previous NBA Finals.
On that note, this was the first and probably only instance of an NBA Finals runner-up having to watch the champion raise their banner on Christmas Day. It couldn't have been easy for the Heat to watch, especially considering how heavily they were favored entering the series.
Finally, this marked the beginning of what will forever be known as the year of LeBron. In 2012, LeBron James won the League MVP, Finals MVP, his first championship ring and an Olympic gold medal. That will go down as one of the best years in athletic history for an individual, and this game is where it all began.
LeBron scored 37 points and had 10 rebounds en route to a Miami victory, marking the beginning of a potential Heat dynasty.
No. 7: Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks, 1994
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The Knicks-Bulls rivalry of the '90s was among the best we've ever seen in the NBA. We saw vicious dunks, big blocks, buzzer-beaters and even a playoff brawl.
The one thing we never saw was the Knicks actually winning. Well, until the '94 playoffs.
Without Michael Jordan in the way, the Knicks finally managed to topple their nemesis and reach the NBA Finals.
When Scottie Pippen got his chance for a rematch on Christmas Day of 1994, he made sure the result would be different.
Pippen was remarkable, scoring 36 points and adding 15 rebounds to keep the Bulls alive. However, the Knicks managed to force overtime thanks to a remarkable Hubert Davis three-pointer.
Overtime stayed close until, in the final moments, Pippen sealed the game with a blocked shot, proving he didn't need Jordan to beat the Knicks.
No. 6: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics, 2008
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What didn't this game have?
A rematch of the NBA Finals? Check, the Celtics beat the Lakers in six games to win the '08 championship.
Two teams playing great basketball? Well the Lakers entered the game with a fantastic 23-5 record and were actually only the second-best team in this game.
The Celtics entered the game with a nearly flawless 27-2 record. They had won 19 games in a row and seemed like a virtual lock to break the '96 Bulls record of 72 wins.
That all changed when the Lakers beat them on Christmas Day. It almost felt like the Lakers broke Boston's spirit, sending the Celtics on a 2-6 skid.
Kevin Garnett eventually got injured and the Celtics never regained their early form, but the Lakers beating this particular Boston team on the big stage will always stand as one of the best Christmas Day games of all time.
No. 5: Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 2010
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This game was more important for emotional reasons than what actually happened on the court.
The world hated LeBron James for leaving the Cavaliers. They hated him for how he handled The Decision. But most of all, they hated him because he tried to cheat the league by stacking the deck. Fans from all over the league bonded over James' early struggles, particularly against opponents fans perceived as real "teams", like the Boston Celtics.
It was all supposed to crescendo on Christmas Day. The two-time defending champion juggernaut Lakers were supposed to put LeBron and the Heat in their place and show them what it really means to be a champion.
Only, that's not what happened. The Heat dominated the Lakers in a 96-80 victory that many view as the turning point for Miami's season. The Heat would go on to reach the NBA Finals while the Lakers were bounced by Dallas in the second round.
No. 4: New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics, 1985
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This game served as Patrick Ewing's emergence into the NBA elite.
Only a rookie in 1985, Ewing's Knicks faced Larry Bird and the heavily favored Celtics in a matchup few expected the Knicks to win.
That narrative seemed correct early on, as the Celtics built up a 25-point lead that seemed insurmountable.
But the Knicks kept fighting. By the end of the fourth quarter the Knicks managed to tie the game and send it to overtime. They eventually won 113-104 in two overtimes, showcasing Ewing to the rest of the world as a future star.
He scored 32 points to go along with 11 rebounds in the upset over Boston.
No. 3: New York Knicks vs. Chicago Bulls, 1986
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This game marked the beginning of a rivalry that would define the Eastern Conference for years. For the first time, Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing played on the big stage.
Ironically, Ewing would be the one to lead the Knicks with last-second heroics.
The Bulls led the Knicks 85-84 going into the final possession. After a missed jumper, Ewing rebounded the shot and threw up a short buzzer-beater to stun the Bulls.
Michael Jordan's 30-point performance wouldn't be enough this time, but he ended up getting the last laugh against Ewing, beating him several times in the playoffs. Still, Ewing detractors can't say he always disappeared late in games, as this play won his team the game.
No. 2: New York Knicks vs. New Jersey Nets, 1984
photo via athletepromotions.com
Knicks fans didn't have much to root for in the early '80s. It basically came down to watching Bernard King score points.
On Christmas Day 1984, he did that better than anyone in NBA history. Well, at least on Christmas Day games.
He dropped an astonishing 60 points on the visiting Nets, a Madison Square Garden record that stood for almost 25 years.
Ironically enough, the Knicks still managed to lose the game 120-114 to the crosstown Nets. Still, King's performance was not only one of the greatest Christmas performances ever, but was arguably the greatest single game by a Knick of all time.
No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat, 2004
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As great as some of the other games on this list were, none will ever top the 2004 showdown between Kobe and Shaq.
Nobody really knew what to expect in Shaq's return to Los Angeles. After all, it was largely viewed as Kobe's fault that he was gone.
Would Kobe and Shaq shake hands before the game? Completely ignore each other? Would Shaq punch Kobe? Pretty much everything was in play here.
A civil pregame welcome led to a remarkable game. Even with Shaq sitting on the bench, the Heat managed to beat the Lakers 104-102 in overtime.
More importantly, this game marked the true beginning of Christmas as the NBA's true showcase event. Fans knew to expect the best games on Christmas Day, and from 2004 on, that's what they got. Kobe vs. Shaq in 2004 changed the game.