Five of the best NBA Christmas games of all time

It’s that time of the year. Christmas is here, and so are the NBA Christmas games.

Defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks are facing the Boston Celtics on Saturday in what should have been an intriguing face-off between Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The only problem is that Antetokounmpo is unlikely to play due to Covid protocols.

And that’s not the only prominent Christmas absence. Brooklyn Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have just entered the league’s Covid protocols, making their appearance against LeBron James’s Lakers almost impossible.

But fear not. In case this year’s Christmas games leave a bittersweet taste in your mouth, you can revisit our all-time favourite NBA Christmas Games.

Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016

The most anticipated game of the 2016/2017 season. LeBron James faced Stephen Curry and the newly-acquired Kevin Durant in this NBA Finals rematch.

Only a few months before, the Cavaliers had become the first team to overcome a 3-1 defeat in the Finals. LeBron James’s legacy as one of the best players ever was cemented after a final 4-3 title win.

How did the Warriors react after losing the Finals? They signed Kevin Durant, arguably one of the best players of all time. This was the first time Durant wore a Warriors uniform against James, and it didn’t disappoint. The game wasn’t resolved until the very last second – basketball at its best.

Chicago Bulls vs New York Knicks, 1994

Unfortunately, Michael Jordan sat this one out as he was temporarily retired. But his Chicago Bulls pals were still title contenders without him, and you can see why here. It’s an absolute monster game from Scottie Pippen, who was all over the boxscore. For the New York Knicks, legendary centre Patrick Ewing got himself a double-double with 30 points and 13 rebounds.

This game featured one of basketball’s wildest endings. It’s even hard to put into words: the Knicks throw a lousy pass, the Bulls’ Steve Kerr gets careless with the ball, and the Knicks somehow send it to overtime.

Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers, 2004

A must-watch for Kobe Bryant fans. Shaquille O’Neal returned to the Staples Centre after trading his way out of Los Angeles the previous summer. His last year in L.A. was a rocky one. The Lakers, heavy favourites to win the title, were crushed 4-1 in the Finals by the less talented but very feisty Detroit Pistons.

Shaq and Kobe did not get along, and the Lakers had to choose between their two superstars. With Shaq headed to Miami Beach, Kobe became synonymous with Los Angeles Lakers for the following ten years.

This game is a perfect example of Kobe’s star power. A level above his teammates, he keeps his team in the fight by sheer determination and leadership. Shaq had a decent game, but rising star Dwayne Wade stole the show for the Heat.

Philadelphia 76ers vs Boston Celtics, 2018

Two title contenders from the East Conference met in this legendary game that ended in overtime. Before the Philadelphia 76ers’ title credentials dissolved due to internal drama, they were a fantastic team to watch.

They had recently acquired star wing Jimmy Butler, who formed an imposing Big Three alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

The Celtics, who had traded for Kyrie Irving the past season, were only one historic performance from LeBron James away from making the NBA Finals. They had brought back most of their squad from the past year and were a joy to watch. With Kyrie Irving at the helm and Al Horford playing secondary point guard from the high post, this was Boston’s most compelling team in years.

New Jersey Nets vs New York Knicks, 1984

NBA Christmas games at the Madison Square Garden are unique – especially when hosting the NBA’s closest thing to a local derby. The Knicks had Hall of Famer Bernard King as their big star, and he did not disappoint. He ended the night with 60 points, which is the highest-ever score in a Christmas Day game.

This game is a cool blast from the past that shows you how much basketball has changed. Only six three-pointers are attempted throughout the whole match – between both teams. The mid-distance and the post still reigned supreme, and isolations hadn’t taken over team strategy yet.

Featured image credit: Getty