Best Christmas Day Performances Since 2000
Gathering with family, opening presents, eating a hearty brunch and unwinding on the couch in front of some NBA entertainment has become a Christmas Day routine for scores of fans around the world.
And over the last couple of decades, a handful of players have made that time on the couch unforgettable.
A truly objective list of the best Christmas Day performances may be impossible to compile, but we'll use game score, which is "a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game," according to Basketball Reference, and single-game box plus/minus—"a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player's contribution to the team when that player is on the court"—in an effort to get close.
If we take every Christmas Day performance of at least 20 minutes since 2000 and sort them by the average of their ranks in those two numbers, we get the following top five (with apologies to close calls from Kevin Durant in 2010, James Harden in 2017, Khris Middleton in 2020, Kawhi Leonard in 2019 and Tracy McGrady in 2002).
5. LeBron James vs. Dallas Mavericks in 2011
Fresh off a six-game loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, in which LeBron James averaged just 17.8 points, the Miami Heat star had a chance for revenge on Christmas in 2011. And he more than got it.
Because of the lockout, this was LeBron's first performance since Dallas ended his title quest months earlier. And the timid player whose impact was all but eliminated by Shawn Marion was nowhere to be found.
LeBron was attacking throughout the game, taking all of his shots from two-point range and going right at any Maverick thrown in front of him.
The Heat dismantled the Mavs, leading by as many as 35 points before the Mavs trimmed the lead in garbage time.
It was a performance that set the tone for a lockout-shortened season in which Miami went 46-20, LeBron won the MVP and the Heat won the title.
4. Kyrie Irving vs. Boston Celtics in 2020
In his first game against his former team (he'd missed all three matchups with the Boston Celtics in 2019-20 with injuries), Kyrie Irving dazzled the fans at TD Garden with his wide-ranging offensive arsenal.
Dribble-drives into mid-range pull-ups and lobs, dribble pull-up threes, catch-and-shoot threes and finishes inside were all on display. And Boston looked borderline helpless against him.
Injuries would once again have their say in the outcome of Kyrie's season, as he suffered a costly sprained ankle in the playoffs, but this Christmas performance helped put him on the path to marks of 26.9 points and 6.0 assists per contest with a 40.2 three-point percentage for the campaign.
3. Tracy McGrady vs. Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003
LeBron James' first Christmas game was a sign of things to come. As an 18-year-old who'd been in the league for mere months, he put up 34 points and six assists.
Tracy McGrady wasn't ready to surrender the league's premier point forward torch, though. He outdueled LeBron with a monster performance and an array of shots from all over the floor.
"He is an All-Star," LeBron said of McGrady after the game. "He is a future Hall of Famer. Guys like him, you cannot stop. You can only hope to contain him."
Hope as much as they could, the Cavs couldn't contain T-Mac, but they weren't alone in that era. McGrady led the NBA in offensive BPM in both 2002-03 and 2003-04, and this was just one of 21 of his 40-plus-point games during those seasons (and postseasons).
2. LeBron James vs. Los Angeles Lakers in 2010
At the height of the "LeBron or Kobe Bryant" debate, and not long after Kobe secured the league's MVP award in 2008, LeBron's newly assembled Heatles cruised past the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, 96-80.
And while defense and a 24-point, 13-rebound double-double from Chris Bosh had plenty to do with the blowout, LeBron's ridiculously efficient triple-double was the driving factor behind the win.
Kobe, of course, had more games (and seasons) of All-NBA-caliber play in him, but this matchup felt like a bit of a turning point in his rivalry with James.
LeBron went on to finish one spot higher than Kobe in 2010-11 MVP voting, and he won all four of his NBA titles from 2012 to 2020.
1. Dwyane Wade vs. Los Angeles Lakers in 2006
Four years before our No. 2 performance, and long before LeBron joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Flash had perhaps the best performance of his career to that point on Christmas and against the legendary Kobe Bryant.
Months after Wade took over the 2006 NBA Finals, his ability to outplay the league's premier 2 guard (Kobe had just 16 points on 4-of-17 shooting) to this degree was a bit of an eye-opener.
And though injuries wiped out over a third of Wade's 2006-07 campaign, this performance and the rest of the season were enough to put him in the "best in the league" conversation.
This Christmas Day performance may not have necessarily been the beginning of that run, but it was certainly one of the exclamation points.