The NBA's Five Most Memorable Christmas Games of the 2000s
Teams, players, and fans alike are anxiously waiting for the NBA to release its 2010-11 schedule. While countless hours will be spent dissecting the schedule looking for match-ups between LeBron James and his former team, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and the super squad assembled in Miami, why should we worry so much about the future?
The past decade should have prepared us for any games we'll see next season, regardless of how sensational they are billed, but one thing's for certain, you can look to one day each year to figure out what David Stern wants us to see.
Perhaps you can't recall who played on Christmases past. That's fine. In fact, it's more than acceptable considering Christmas games are played so early in an 82-game season.
When you consider that 22 teams have participated in Christmas games since December 25, 2000, it's even more understandable why you can get lost attempting to go down memory lane.
Of those 22 teams, the Lakers have appeared in a league-high ten Christmas Day games. Of the 28 games played altogether, the home team has won 17.
Do Christmas Day NBA games really matter though?
Sure, they're normally hyped up, but we all know the Playoffs are where it happens, right?
"Join us on Christmas Day," the television will announce, "see Pick-a-Star v. Pick-another-Star go at it."
"This team is seeking Christmas Day revenge against this other team after losing in last year's Finals. Tune in . . . and Happy Holidays!"
It's always something.
Some games live up to the hype, others don't. Some are memorable for not living up to the hype. Others, quite frankly, make you wonder why they were ever scheduled.
In case you're getting a headache trying to remember some eventful Christmas Day games, here are five I'm sure you'll remember with a little prodding.
In a rematch of the 2001 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers faced off during the following Christmas.
It was Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant.
There was no Shaq, but across the floor from Kobe was a young guard named Raja Bell who played his first significant minutes against Kobe Bryant during this game. Did it matter? No, but maybe you were curious.
Back to the game. A.I. and Kobe on Christmas Day— we're ready for an offensive explosion!
Except, that didn't happen.
Instead of Iverson coming to Los Angeles and Kobe and him combining for a million points, neither club eclipsed 90. The Lakers won the game by six points after trailing for three quarters.
The Lakers would win another championship later that season, while Iverson would never taste the Finals again, starting his journey toward unfulfilled dreams and broken expectations.
Knicks Win, Knicks Win!!
As fun, and cruel, as it would be to point out the Knicks won a game, there's more to their Christmas Day game against the Toronto Raptors than meets the eye. Playing in the first of only two Christmas games in ten years, the New York Knicks found themselves a sudden symbol of America.
Their 102-94 victory over the Raptors at Madison Square Garden was earned miles away from the site of part of America's worst terrorist attacks just months earlier. After making the Playoffs the year before, the Knicks were facing a terrible start to the 2001-02 season (12-15). This game, against the very team that beat them in the first round of the Playoffs, was was significant, but not because of hype or preseason scheduling based on likely competitiveness.
It was significant because it served as a sign of hope for New Yorkers, Virginians, Pennsylvanians, and Americans.
Much like the Knicks had suffered defeat at the hands of a foreign club, the city itself had suffered so much at the hands of foreign terrorists. As the city and the nation looked for answers and hope, on that Christmas Day, there were more Knick fans than at any other time in the franchise's history.
Although Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, and Vince Carter headlined the event as its stars, the symbolism and proximity should place this game into an American's collective memory.
A Bitter Rivalry
Although Robert Horry had left the team and Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns posed no real threat to the Spurs during their first-round elimination in the 2008 Playoffs, these two franchises shared a nasty history that deserved the spotlight on one of the marquee games of the season.
This game had the fast and furious Suns facing the slow and steady Spurs. Nash against Parker. Shaq against Duncan.
On December 25, 2008, the Spurs arrived in Phoenix tied with Houston for the lead in the Southwest Division and the second-best record in the West behind the Lakers.
After the first quarter, the Suns led the Spurs by nine points. As was usually the case with these two teams, however, the Spurs never looked back after outscoring their smaller opponents 21-18 in the second quarter.
This game was decided by a one-point margin and Tony Parker outplayed Nash, leading all scorers with 27 points to go along with his eight assists.
When the 2008-09 season tipped off, the NBA had wisely scheduled a game between the two clubs and, believe it or not, the Suns won their season-opener at San Antonio. The Spurs clearly weren't impressed. After the Christmas game, they won the next two regular season contests against the Suns and the Suns missed the Playoffs.
Did we really expect any slaying, even of demons, on Christmas Day?
Although Dwyane Wade and LeBron James had already played against each other 14 times, the Miami Heat had been constantly facing the Lakers on Christmas Day. The NBA had apparently milked the Shaq-Kobe cow long enough. It was time for the the Heat, who had played in three straight Christmas games, to face something different.
In an Eastern Conference match-up that featured two of the game's most exciting players, the Heat and Cavs, along with their future teammates, met in Cleveland to discuss things over.
Cleveland, coming off of their loss to the Spurs in the Finals, were now officially the team to beat, and they proved it by beating the Heat by 14 points.
James scored 25, dished out 12 assists, grabbed six boards, and had a steal and a block.
Wade had 22 points, 8 assists, and six rebounds.
Two superstars combining for 47 points, 20 assists, and 12 rebounds sounds pretty good.
The two teams meeting on Christmas Day almost three years ago shortly after competing in the FIBA Americas Championship and spawning what many speculate to be one of the biggest coups in NBA history is priceless.
Perhaps this one's memorable by name and hindsight only.
O'Neal's Return to L.A.
After a bitter split between the Los Angeles Lakers and Shaquille O'Neal, this Christmas game was one every fan was waiting for. After months and months of wondering how it would turn out, it turned out four quarters weren't enough time to settle the score between the star-crossed lovers.
Much like his career with the Lakers, Shaq ended up "fouling" out of the game after scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. His nemesis, Kobe Bryant, played 50 minutes in a turnover-prone game with 42 points, six assists, and three rebounds. Although his nine turnovers were terrible, it was the bitter taste of defeat in his first game against his new foe that left Kobe frustrated.
The Lakers lost to the Heat in a rematch that season in Miami and eventually missed the Playoffs with a 34-48 record and a fourth-place finish in the Pacific Division. Meanwhile, Shaq and Wade led their team to the Eastern Conference Finals only to lose against Detroit.
Despite Bryant's explosive scoring, this game, along with the team's performance that season, led many league observers to declare that Kobe's team would never live up to its days with Shaq. When Miami won the 2006 NBA Finals, everyone dismissed Kobe and his Lakers. Everyone, except their loyalist of fans.
How things change.
Narrowing all 28 games into a list of five memorable games surely leaves some out. Not remembering half of the games makes it much more difficult.
If this list has missed any games you think are more memorable or meaningful, feel free to leave a comment.