Ranking the Best NBA Christmas Games Since 2000
Even after the presents are unwrapped and thank-you notes are written, Christmas Day often has another gift in store.
During the last two decades, the NBA has regularly planned for a few marquee matchups on the holiday itself.
Quite often—and for good reason—the showdowns have included the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and LeBron James' team (mostly the Cleveland Cavaliers or Miami Heat, to this point).
As the NBA readies for a new decade of matchups, let's journey into the archives for the best Christmas games of the past 20 years. The list is ultimately subjective, but each game's entertainment, star power and rivalry/revenge shaped the selections.
8. 2014: Heat 101, Cavaliers 91
After winning two NBA titles and appearing in two other Finals with the Heat, LeBron James returned to Cleveland. And the first matchup between the teams was a great one.
The Heat opened up a 17-point lead in the first half, but Cleveland closed the gap to three by the end of the third quarter. With 10 minutes left in regulation, the scoreboard showed 80 points apiece. From there, Miami took control of the game.
Cleveland scored just 11 points in the last 10 minutes as Luol Deng and Danny Granger hit several key shots to propel the Heat. They provided the perfect late complement to Dwayne Wade, who finished the contest with a game-best 31 points.
LeBron ended with 30 points and eight assists.
7. 2013: Warriors 105, Clippers 103
While the Heat/Cavs matchup in 2014 featured little animosity, it's fair to consider the 2013 clash of the Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers the polar opposite.
This was ugly, physical and highly enjoyable.
Draymond Green and Blake Griffin were both ejected, and Andrew Bogut picked up both a technical and flagrant foul. Their absences hardly distracted from a back-and-forth finish, which included seven lead changes in the fourth quarter alone.
Stephen Curry drained a clutch three—something all-too-familiar in future years—and sparked Golden State's late surge. Jamal Crawford's three-pointer at the buzzer hit the front rim, giving the Warriors a hard-fought 105-103 win.
Curry scored 15 points and dished 11 assists, while both David Lee and Klay Thompson netted 23 points. Chris Paul led the Clippers with 26 points and 11 assists.
6. 2018: Celtics 121, 76ers 114 (OT)
In short: Kyrie Irving went off.
The longer version is the Boston Celtics needed a huge performance from the All-Star guard to outlast Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers. Irving poured in 40 points, including a jumper to force overtime and back-to-back triples—the first of which was the go-ahead shot—during the extra session.
"I got to open presents with my family this morning and then come into work," Irving told reporters. "It was great."
The final two minutes of regulation had four lead changes, capped by Irving's tying shot. Philly led early in overtime before Irving knocked down his pair of threes.
Embiid tallied a team-high 34 points, while Jimmy Butler scored 24 and Ben Simmons flirted with a triple-double. Boston also received 23 points from Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris Sr.
5. 2003: Magic 113, Cavaliers 101 (OT)
The first time LeBron played on Christmas Day in the NBA, Tracy McGrady outdueled Cleveland's rookie star.
McGrady scorched the Cavaliers for 41 points and 11 assists, propelling the Orlando Magic to a 113-101 overtime win. He scored or assisted on 26 of Orlando's last 30 points.
LeBron paced Cleveland with 34 points and six assists but missed all four shots in the extra session. Carlos Boozer provided 18 points and 19 rebounds for the Cavs, but he also didn't score in overtime as Orlando outscored Cleveland 16-4.
Although McGrady and the Magic won, the All-Star guard had nothing but praise for LeBron afterward.
"He's unbelievable," McGrady told reporters. "He's not 18. Can't possibly be. If he continues to work hard and stay hungry, it can be ugly. It's scary how good he can be."
4. 2011: Bulls 88, Lakers 87
Because of the lockout, the 2011-12 NBA season began on Christmas Day. Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and the Chicago Bulls opened the campaign with a thrilling comeback and last-second win.
With 3:40 left in regulation, Kobe Bryant made a layup to give the Lakers an 82-71 edge. And although Chicago trimmed the deficit to 87-81, Los Angeles held that six-point advantage as the clock ticked below one minute to play.
Deng converted a three-point play and—after Kobe missed a jumper—added two free throws. On the opposite end, Deng grabbed a steal and afforded Chicago a game-winning chance.
Rose didn't waste it.
The league's reigning MVP dribbled past Derek Fisher and tossed in a floater over Pau Gasol. Kobe attacked the rim at the buzzer, but Deng swatted away the shot to seal Chicago's 88-87 win.
3. 2008: Lakers 92, Celtics 83
In the 2008 NBA Finals, the Celtics toppled the Lakers in six games. The unofficial rematch happened when Boston carried a 19-game winning streak into Christmas Day.
Los Angeles ensured that wouldn't continue.
During the last three minutes of the fourth quarter, the Lakers broke an 81-81 deadlock with an 11-2 run to the finish. Pau Gasol scored seven straight points—all on assists from Kobe, who added a bucket and another assist to wrap up the 92-83 victory. It was also the 1,000th win of Phil Jackson's coaching career.
No regular-season win will atone for a championship loss, but Los Angeles badly wanted the victory and earned it.
"We've been waiting for that opportunity for a long time, and we won," Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic told reporters. "I don't like them at all. A lot of people called us softies or whatever. It doesn't matter at all. We know what we can do."
2. 2004: Heat 104, Lakers 102 (OT)
The summer of 2004 brought a significant change for the Lakers, who traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat. Shaq wanted a raise, and his relationship with Kobe Bryant was deteriorating.
Christmas pitted Shaq and Miami against his former team and co-star, and both players had a great game. O'Neal notched 24 points and 11 rebounds, and Kobe tallied 42 points and six assists.
Someone else, however, stole the show. Second-year guard Dwyane Wade collected 29 points and 10 assists, carrying Miami after Shaq fouled out. Wade hit a game-tying shot late in regulation and buried two important floaters in overtime.
Kobe had a game-winning look as overtime expired, but his three-pointer caromed off the rim.
1. 2016: Cavaliers 109, Warriors 108
In 2015, the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Cleveland exacted its revenge in 2016. And before the franchises met for Round 3 in June 2017, they played a Christmas classic.
Golden State—which led for 40-plus minutes of the game—built a 14-point advantage with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter.
It's not how you start, though.
Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving sparked a 14-3 run in the next four minutes. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant kept misfiring on jumpers, and Cleveland finally evened the score at 103 as the clock edged below two minutes to play.
LeBron James slammed home a go-ahead dunk, but Green and Curry pushed the Warriors to a 108-105 lead. Irving, however, bookended two buckets around a shot-clock violation from the Dubs.
Golden State's desperation attempt ended with Durant tripping and heaving a 30-footer from the ground at the buzzer. It missed the rim, and Cleveland celebrated a 109-108 win.