Christmas day involves some essential activities: opening presents, spending time with family, and stuffing your face with unprecedented amounts of food. Of course, as with other holidays, another tradition involves enjoying the many sporting events that occur on Christmas day. The NBA usually has the day all to itself, scheduling several marquee games on Christmas every year. In 2015, this was the case once again, as an NBA Finals rematch was among the games delivering action on the hardwood.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers hoped to take revenge against the burning hot Golden State Warriors, which followed another great matchup between Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the visiting Chicago Bulls. As those highly anticipated contests occurred this Christmas, memories of the best matchups of the holiday naturally arose. So, for review, here are five of the best Christmas Day games in NBA history.
5. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers (2000)
This one served as a rematch between the defending NBA Champion Lakers and the team they defeated in the previous season’s Western Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers. On the Lakers’ roster were the likes of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. For the Blazers, Rasheed Wallace and Scottie Pippen headlined their talented lineup.
Portland, a team that continuously struggled to beat Los Angeles, desperately needed to win this Christmas Day contest for many reasons other than simply adding another win to their record. Wallace stepped up for Portland, scoring 33 points to lead his team to a 109-104 victory. Despite the solid victory, Los Angeles got the better of the Trail Blazers in the playoffs, sweeping them in the first round en route to a second straight championship.
4. Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks (1994)
In the classic rivalry of the ’90s, the Bulls and the Knicks met on Christmas Day back in 1994, staging a rematch of the previous season’s Eastern Conference finals, which finally saw New York get past Chicago to reach the NBA Finals. In the highly anticipated rematch, Scottie Pippen took down the Bulls’ arch rival. Pippen scored 36 points and added 15 rebounds to lead Chicago to an overtime victory on the road. Both teams qualified for the postseason, but neither reached the NBA Finals, providing a rare occurrence in the ’90s without the Knicks or the Bulls on the game’s biggest stage.
3. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics (2008)
It usually doesn’t get much better than the Celtics versus the Lakers, and the classic rivalry between these two great NBA franchises produced another memorable matchup on Christmas Day back in 2008. After meeting in the previous season’s NBA Finals (with the Celtics surviving in six games), Boston hosted Los Angeles in a game bursting with star power. Of course, the Lakers had Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, while Boston had Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett on their side.
Even better, these were two of the elite teams in basketball at the time of this game, holding two of the best records in the league. Bryant put up 27 points and Gasol put up 20 points to offset 20 from Pierce and 22 from Garnett, with Los Angeles eventually getting revenge in a 92-83 victory. The Lakers went on to win the NBA Finals that season, while Boston bowed out early in the Eastern Conference playoffs following a 62-win campaign.
2. New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics (1985)
This year in basketball happened to be the rookie season for the great Patrick Ewing. His New York Knicks matched up with the powerful Boston Celtics and Larry Bird in 1985 on Christmas Day, providing a major challenge — which nobody thought Ewing and the Knicks were ready for. Once Boston built a 25-point advantage in the game, everyone thought the contest would follow the script. Instead, Ewing lead New York to a crazy comeback, stamping Ewing’s status as a superstar in the league.
Ewing scored 32 and grabbed 11 boards to lead New York to a 113-104 victory in double overtime. Of course, that was a highlight of the Knicks’ season in 85-86, as they only finished with 23 victories. As for Boston, they went on to win yet another NBA title, continuing their terrific run of excellence in the ’80s.
1. Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers (2004)
This one is the pinnacle of all Christmas Day games. A battle between former teammates in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal took center stage on Christmas Day in 2004, but it was an emerging Miami Heat star that stole the show. Dwyane Wade, in his second NBA season, scored 29 points to support O’Neal’s 24. Bryant did all he could, scoring 42 for Los Angeles, but even with Shaq on the bench in overtime, Miami still secured the win. Wade scored 4 points in OT after Shaq fouled out in the fourth quarter, and the Heat won 104-102. Miami went on to lose in the Eastern Conference semifinals that season, while the Lakers failed to reach the postseason.