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Best NBA Christmas Day Games – Why These 6 Are the Most Memorable

| December 5, 2021 6:52 am PDT

The NBA has been playing on Christmas Day since 1947. Every year, the league makes sure the holiday is full of marquee matchups.

These marquee matchups almost always live up to the hype. That’s why some of the best games of the season come on Christmas Day.

Which one’s stand out above the rest? Here are the six best Christmas Day games.

6. New York Knicks vs. Chicago Bulls (1994)

Michael Jordan may not have returned from his first retirement, but this matchup between the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls had plenty of stars.

The Knicks had Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, while the Bulls countered with Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc.

Both teams were struggling early in the season, but everyone knew they could turn it around and make the postseason. On Christmas Day, we witnessed an exciting matchup.

New York went on the road and jumped out to a nine-point first-quarter lead. Chicago wouldn’t let them pull away easily. They outscored them by nine in the second quarter to tie the game at halftime. From there, it was a tight battle.

Throughout the game, it was a battle between Pippen and Ewing. Both players were going at it as they tried to lead their team to victory.

In the final seconds, Kukoc made a pair of free throws to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Knicks threw a full-court pass right into the hands of Steve Kerr. Instead of securing the ball and letting the time run out, Kerr deflected the ball into Hubert Davis’ hands.

Davis nailed the last-second three-pointer to send the game to overtime.

Luckily, Pippen came through in overtime to clinch the victory for the Bulls. He scored all seven points in overtime and blocked the potential game-tying three-pointer.

His final numbers show it was one of the greatest Christmas Day performances.

  • 36 points
  • 16 rebounds
  • 5 steals
  • 3 assists
  • 2 blocks

Just to add to Pippen’s great performance; he played in all 53 minutes of the game.

Kukoc added 25 points and six assists, while Ewing led the Knicks with 30 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists.

On Christmas Day, Pippen showed he was capable of leading a championship-caliber team.

5. Houston Rockets vs. Orlando Magic (1995)

For the first time in NBA history, a Christmas Day matchup featured a rematch of the previous NBA Finals. The Houston Rockets came out on top, but the Orlando Magic were looking for revenge.

Both teams looked like they were ready to make another Finals run. The Rockets were 19-7, and the Magic were 21-6. A big reason for that was their big men.

Both Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal were among the best players at this time.

Orlando dominated the first half, jumping out to a 13-point lead. The Rockets decided they didn’t need the entire second half to erase the deficit.

Check out the scoring breakdown in the third quarter.

  • Houston Rockets: 36
  • Orlando Magic: 19

Just like that, the Rockets had a four-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

With under a minute left, it was a 90-90 game. Olajuwon had a chance to give the Rockets the lead but missed a hook shot. This gave the Magic a final chance to win the game.

Penny Hardaway drove to the basket, pulled up, and hit a shot with 3.1 seconds remaining to give Orlando a two-point lead.

Robert Horry missed the game-winning three to give the Magic a 92-90 victory.

The great duel between Olajuwon and O’Neal lived up to the hype.

Hakeem Olajuwon Shaquille O’Neal
Points 30 22
Rebounds 12 18
Assists 6 5
Field Goal Shooting 12/26 10/15

In the end, neither player could hit the clutch shot. Instead, Hardaway was the one to step up and lead his team to victory. Hardaway finished the game with 22 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds.

I think this game made the NBA realize they should have more Finals rematches on Christmas Day. After all, it usually involves the two best teams.

4. Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks (1985)

In 1985, the New York Knicks were in the beginning of what would be a rough season. They came into Christmas Day with a 9-19 record.

Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics were 21-6 and looked like one of the best teams. Their roster included Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish.

On the other side, the Knicks had a 23-year-old rookie by the name of Patrick Ewing.

Early on, this looked like a lopsided matchup. Boston led by 14 at halftime and extended that lead to 25 in the third quarter. From there, New York began to chip away. They managed to cut the deficit to 10 going into the fourth quarter.

Behind a strong performance from Ewing, the Knicks erased the deficit and sent the game to overtime.

It wound up going into double overtime, with the Knicks pulling out the 113-104 victory. New York fans must’ve thought it was a late Christmas present because no one thought they would win that game.

As I mentioned earlier, Ewing was the star of the game.

  • 32 points
  • 11 rebounds
  • 3 assists
  • 13/24 field goal shooting

He had a very impressive performance against an elite Celtics team. The Celtics big three had an amazing game of their own.

McHale had 29 points on 15 free throws, while also adding in 15 rebounds. Parish had a big 24-point, 18-rebound performance. Bird also had a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

It’s crazy to think they didn’t win with that production, but they didn’t have a lot of help. No one else on the team scored over eight points.

In the end, it all worked out for the Celtics, as they won the NBA Finals. New York returned to Christmas Day the following season with Ewing hitting the game-winner over the Chicago Bulls.

At least the Knicks could win on Christmas Day.

3. Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (2016)

A little over six months after playing in one of the greatest NBA Finals of the 21st century, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers had a highly anticipated rematch on Christmas Day.

Following the Finals loss, the Warriors went out and signed Kevin Durant. That signing was one of the best of all time.

Between Durant, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving, there were plenty of stars for this game.

Golden State came in 27-4, while the Cavaliers were 22-6.

The Warriors held a three-point lead at halftime. Durant was leading the way with 17 points and eight rebounds. James already achieved a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

In the third quarter, both stars took control.

  • Kevin Durant: 11 points
  • LeBron James: 16 points

Golden State had a seven-point lead and slowly began to pull away. That lead grew to 14 with over nine minutes remaining. Then, it was Cleveland’s turn to chip away.

Irving was the star of the fourth quarter scoring, scoring 14 of his 25 points.

Facing a three-point deficit, Irving hit a layup with 38 seconds remaining. After forcing a shot clock violation, Cleveland had the ball with a chance to win the game.

That’s when Irving drove to the basket and hit a fadeaway over Klay Thompson with three seconds remaining. Don’t forget, Irving was the one who hit the game-clinching three in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

Durant missed a three to seal the 109-108 victory for the Cavaliers.

Check out Irving’s final numbers.

  • 25 points
  • 10 assists
  • 7 steals
  • 6 rebounds

James and Durant had a pair of fantastic performances themselves. James had 31 points and 13 rebounds, while Durant put up 36 points and 15 rebounds.

For the second time in 2016, Irving was the one to deliver the dagger.

2. Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers (2008)

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers met on Christmas Day for the first time since the 2008 NBA Finals. Boston won that in six games, but the Lakers were looking for revenge.

Both teams came into the matchup with a ton of momentum. Boston was riding a 19-game win streak and held a 27-2 record. Los Angeles wasn’t much worse with a 23-5 record.

Like most Christmas Day matchups, there were plenty of stars on the court. The Celtics had their big three, while the Lakers had none other than Kobe Bryant.

Bryant had a solid first half with 16 points on 8/13 shooting. Kevin Garnett went 6/6 en route to 12 points and four rebounds. At this point, the Lakers had a six-point lead.

Boston closed the gap in the third quarter behind 12 points from Paul Pierce. Still, they went into the fourth quarter facing a four-point deficit.

For over nine minutes of the fourth quarter, the gap was never bigger than four. Boston briefly took a two-point lead with just under four minutes remaining. From there, the Lakers took control of the game.

They closed on a 13-2 run to end the Celtics win streak with a 92-83 victory.

Bryant and Pau Gasol were the top players for Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant Pau Gasol
Points 27 20
Rebounds 9 5
Assists 5 3
Field Goal Shooting 13/23 7/14

This was also the 1,000th career win for Phil Jackson.

Pierce posted a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Garnett fell one rebound short of a double-double.

It looked like we were heading towards another Finale rematch, but the Celtics lost to the Orlando Magic in the playoffs. Los Angeles went on to win their first of two straight titles.

1. Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers (2004)

This wasn’t a Finals rematch but all eyes were on Staples Center on Christmas Day in 2004. Shaquille O’Neal was making his return to Los Angeles for the first time since joining the Miami Heat. That pitted him against former teammate turned rival in Kobe Bryant.

The Los Angeles Lakers were struggling a bit with a 14-11 record. O’Neal and Dwyane Wade had the Heat at 21-7.

In the first quarter, it was all about Wade and Bryant.

  • Dwyane Wade: 13 points
  • Kobe Bryant: 15 points

It was a tight first half, with the Lakers holding a three-point lead. Bryant led all scorers with 20 points.

Bryant had 13 points in the third quarter to give the Lakers a four-point lead.

Los Angeles led most of the fourth quarter, but the Heat came back to tie it with a little over three minutes remaining. Neither team scored in the final minute, as Wade missed two shots in the final seconds.

By this point, O’Neal fouled out of the game. Luckily, the Heat had enough talent to withstand the loss.

In the final seconds, Bryant shot a three to win the game, but it bounced off the rim. He failed to score in overtime as the Heat won 104-102.

It was a thrilling performance from Bryant, Wade, and O’Neal.

Kobe Bryant Dwyane Wade Shaquille O’Neal
Points 42 29 24
Assists 6 10 3
Rebounds 3 3 11
Field Goal Shooting 12/30 10/26 11/19

How many hyped-up matchups do you see fail to meet expectations? This was not one of those cases.

Watching Bryant and O’Neal battle as foes was must-see TV. Add in Wade’s big performance and it makes for the best Christmas Day game of all time.

Other Great Christmas Day Games

  • New York Knicks vs. New Jersey Nets (1984)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic (2003)

The New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets came into this matchup with a combined 23-35. However, they managed to play a good game with the Nets staging a late comeback to win 120-114.

Even in a loss, everyone was talking about the Knicks because Bernard King scored a Christmas Day record 60 points.

In 2003, prime Tracy McGrady and the Orlando Magic faced off with rookie LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. McGrady put up 41 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds to lead Orlando to an overtime victory. James had 34 points and six assists, while Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 19 rebounds.

There is something special about playing on Christmas Day. We usually see two great teams go down to the wire and produce a thrilling finish.

And why not make Christmas Day a little more exciting with some bets. If you aren’t familiar with the process, make sure you check out our NBA betting guide.

Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with GamblingSites.com since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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