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Greatest NBA Performances on Christmas Day

| December 15, 2021 10:32 am PDT

Since 1947, the NBA has played on Christmas Day almost every season. The lone exception comes from the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.

When you have marquee matchups, you typically see the game’s best players. What happens when the game’s best players play? You see a lot of memorable performances.

Let’s look back at the 10 greatest Christmas Day performances.

10. Dwyane Wade (2006)

Following their first championship in franchise history, the Miami Heat hosted the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Heat came in struggling with a 12-14 record, while the Lakers were looking strong at 18-9.

When you have a matchup like this, all eyes are on the stars. It was a battle between Kobe Bryant and defending Finals MVP Dwyane Wade. His Finals performance was one of the best in NBA history.

It didn’t take long for us to realize this game would be all about Wade.

He had 12 points, five assists, and three blocks in the first quarter alone. That allowed Miami to take a 14-point lead into the second quarter.

Wade finished the first half with 16 points. Meanwhile, Bryant had four points on 1/9 shooting.

Just to make sure there was no comeback from the Lakers, Wade took over in the third quarter.

  • 18 points
  • 7/10 field goal shooting
  • 4/4 free-throw shooting

Miami sealed the deal in the fourth quarter to win 101-85. Wade dazzled all game with 40 points, 11 assists, four rebounds, four steals, and four blocks. Talk about stuffing the stat sheet.

In a battle of superstars, Wade was the only one to show up.

9. LeBron James (2010)

In the 2010 offseason, LeBron James made the highly publicized move to sign with the Miami Heat. It wound up being one of the best free agent signings in NBA history, but it drew ire from a lot of fans.

James and the rest of the big three traveled to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers. The Lakers were coming off back-to-back titles, while the Heat looked like the championship favorite.

In the first quarter, James scored eight of the Heat’s 20 points. He also had four rebounds and two assists.

Miami went into halftime with a nine-point lead. James played the entire third quarter and went to work.

  • 10 points
  • 5 rebounds
  • 4 assists
  • 2/3 three-point shooting

There was no comeback from Los Angeles. Miami outscored them in every quarter to capture the 96-80 victory.

With all the stars on the floor, James was the best player. He had a game-high 27 points on 5/6 three-point shooting. James completed a triple-double with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. His 10 assists also marked a game-high.

He might not have been very popular, but the king reminded everyone that he was the best player in the world.

8. Kyrie Irving (2018)

It was a meeting of two of the top Eastern Conference teams when the Boston Celtics hosted the Philadelphia 76ers.

Kyrie Irving was in the midst of his second season with the Celtics, while Jimmy Butler was making his 76ers debut.

Irving set the tone early with a big first quarter. Over the next two quarters, he only had three points. Philadelphia erased a nine-point halftime deficit and led by three in the fourth quarter.

The game came down to the final minute. The 76ers had a two-point lead, but Irving hit a turnaround jumper to tie the game. This came two years after he hit the game-winner on Christmas Day for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In overtime, Irving went to work. He hit back-to-back threes to give Boston a five-point lead. The Celtics went on to win 121-114.

Check out his final numbers from the stellar performance.

  • 40 points
  • 10 rebounds
  • 17/33 field goal shooting
  • 5/10 three-point shooting

This game featured five players scoring at least 23 points. However, none of them had anything for Irving’s 40.

7. Kevin Durant (2010)

Even at 22 years old, Kevin Durant had established himself as one of the best scorers in the NBA. He and Russell Westbrook had the Oklahoma City Thunder looking like championship contenders.

On Christmas Day, Oklahoma City had the opportunity to host the Denver Nuggets.

Despite scoring 10 points in the first quarter, Durant’s Thunder trailed by eight. They bounced back in the second quarter to trail by two at halftime.

In the third quarter, Durant took complete control.

  • 21 points
  • 2 rebounds
  • 2 assists
  • 3/4 three-point shooting

Even with the big quarter, Oklahoma City led by just three going into the fourth quarter.

Durant only scored four points in the fourth quarter, but the Thunder outscored Denver 26-21 to win by eight points.

Overall, Durant put up 44 points on a very efficient 14/20 field goal shooting. He also added in seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks, and two steals.

It was quite the performance for the young star. Of course, it was only a preview of what was to come.

6. Charles Barkley (1993)

From here on out, you’re going to see a lot of old-school performances.

The Phoenix Suns lost in the 1993 NBA Finals, but they looked poised to make another Finals run. They came into this game 18-5, while their opponent, the Houston Rockets, were 22-2.

This game featured a thrilling battle between two of the best big men in the league. Charles Barkley was the defending MVP, and Hakeem Olajuwon was in the middle of an MVP season.

Phoenix only led by three following the first quarter, but they blew things open in the second quarter.

They outscored the Rockets by 19 points to take a 22-point lead into halftime.

Olajuwon had a great performance, but there was no overcoming that deficit. Phoenix won the game behind a monster performance from Barkley.

  • 38 points
  • 18 rebounds
  • 4 assists
  • 15/27 field goal shooting

What’s even more impressive about this performance is that Barkley dealt with a back injury for much of the 1993-94 season. There was talk that he could retire because of the injury.

Barkley outperformed Olajuwon on Christmas Day, but the latter ultimately had the last laugh after defeating Barkley’s Suns in the playoffs.

5. Scottie Pippen (1994)

In 1994, the Chicago Bulls were in the second season without Michael Jordan. Jordan would return in 1994-95, but that wasn’t until after Christmas Day.

Without Jordan, Scottie Pippen became the star player.

While the New York Knicks and Bulls ended the season as playoff teams, they didn’t come into this game with much momentum. The Knicks were 12-11 and Chicago was 12-12.

Luckily, we had an outstanding performance from Pippen.

Pippen helped the Bulls erase a nine-point first-quarter deficit to tie the game at halftime. It ended up being a back-and-forth affair that went to overtime on a last-second three from Hubert Davis.

In overtime, Pippen scored all seven points to lead Chicago to a 107-104 victory.

The Knicks had two chances to tie the game in the final seconds. Pippen blocked both three-point attempts.

It’s one thing to have a great performance with a lot of points. It’s another to add value on the defensive end on the floor. That’s exactly what we saw in a terrific performance from Pippen.

4. Tracy McGrady (2003)

In 2003, the Orlando Magic hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day. The game marked LeBron James’ first appearance on the holiday.

On the other side, the Magic had Tracy McGrady. McGrady scored 46 points on Christmas Day in 2002.

From a team standpoint, it wasn’t the most exciting game. The Cavaliers and Magic came in with a combined 16-41 record. Luckily, we witnessed a great game.

McGrady had it going with 10 points and three assists in the first quarter. He wound up with 19 points at halftime as the Magic held a two-point lead.

The second half was a tight battle as neither team could pull away. McGrady was the only Magic player to score over six points in the second half. The game went into overtime.

Juwan Howard had the first eight points of overtime for Orlando. McGrady had a pair of late three-pointers to put the game out of reach. The Magic picked up a 113-101 victory.

For the second straight season, McGrady was the star of Christmas Day.

It’s a shame injuries derailed his career because McGrady was a walking bucket in his prime.

3. Rick Barry (1966)

In 1966, we saw a battle between two of the best players in the NBA. Oscar Robertson and the Cincinnati Royals faced off with Rick Barry and the San Francisco Warriors.

Both players showed out on Christmas Day. When you look at the numbers, it’s clear which one had the better performance.

San Francisco came into the game with nine more wins but it ended up being a tight game. It was a tie game at halftime before the Royals took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter. That’s when the Warriors put their foot to the pedal.

They dominated the fourth quarter, outscoring Cincinnati by 13 to win 124-112.

Robertson himself had a fine day with 38 points and six assists. However, that only pales in comparison to Barry.

  • 50 points
  • 6 rebounds
  • 4 assists
  • 19/35 field goal shooting
  • 12/13 free-throw shooting

Anytime you can score 50 points in a game, it’s special. It’s even more impressive when you do it on Christmas Day.

Also, it’s interesting to look at a few other players in this game. Nate Thurmond had 21 points and 27 rebounds, while Jerry Lucas pulled down 24 rebounds.

Even so, nobody could top Barry.

2. Bernard King (1984)

Typically, Christmas Day should feature a battle between top teams in the NBA. With this great performance, we didn’t get that.

The New Jersey Nets came into this matchup 11-17. The New York Knicks weren’t much better at 12-18. It wound up being a pretty good game with a legendary performance from Bernard King.

New York jumped out to a 10-point halftime lead. King was on his way to a legendary performance with 40 points.

Unfortunately, the Knicks had a letdown in the second half. The Nets outscored them by 16 en route to a 120-114 victory.

Even with the loss, all anyone could talk about was King’s performance.

His 60 points set an NBA record for the most points on Christmas Day. That’s the kind of performance that stands out in a loss.

The Knicks didn’t do much the rest of the season. They finished with the third-worst record at 24-58.

When you look back, I’m sure Knicks fans don’t remember the record. They remember King’s legendary performance on Christmas Day.

1. Wilt Chamberlain (1961)

Wilt Chamberlain posted god-like numbers in his era. His rookie season is one of the greatest in NBA history. Two seasons later, he had the opportunity to play on Christmas Day.

The Philadelphia Warriors traveled to New York to take on the Knicks. Philadelphia had a much better record but New York wasn’t backing down.

New York had a big first half, leading by 15. Behind a strong performance from Chamberlain, Philadelphia staged a big comeback.

They outscored the Knicks by 16 in the third quarter alone. New York managed to force the game into overtime. In fact, the game went into double overtime. Surprisingly, the Knicks pulled out a one-point victory.

That was nice and all for the Knicks but wait until you see Chamberlain’s numbers.

  • 59 points
  • 36 rebounds
  • 23/44 field goal shooting
  • 13/22 free-throw shooting

Obviously, this is a great performance and the best of all-time on Christmas Day. But honestly, this was another game for Chamberlain in 1961-62. The guy averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds that season.

Sometimes, all you can do is sit there and marvel.

Other Great NBA Christmas Day Performances

  • Dominique Wilkins (1987)
  • Nate “Tiny” Archibald (1972)

In 1987, Dominique Wilkins helped the Atlanta Hawks overcome a 14-point deficit to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers. Wilkins had 45 points, nine rebounds, and shot 17/28 from the field.

Most great Christmas Day performances involve a high-scoring game. Nate Archibald had a solid 20 points, but he earned his spot with a Christmas Day record 18 assists.

Just like NFL players on Thanksgiving Day, NBA players want to show out on the holiday because they know everyone is watching. It’s more than just another regular-season game.

It doesn’t hurt to have a few extra bucks at Christmas time. Checking out the top betting sites is your first step towards winning some money.

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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