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NBA: Best Christmas Day Games in NBA History

The NFL has Thanksgiving, but Christmas Day belongs to the NBA and it is the marquee event in the regular season.

Basketball and Christmas Day goes way back in 1947, when the now defunct Providence Steamrollers lost to New York Knicks in the BBA. 

A tradition was born and now we’re treated to some of the best regular season action on Christmas Day each year. 

The fixtures are selected to pit old rivals against each other, and showcase some of the best teams and best players. 

There are five games to look forward to this year and the battle between the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks in Boston is the big game. 

The Celtics beat the Bucks 4-3 in the second round of the playoffs last year, fighting back from 3-2 down, and the game sees the two teams with the best regular season records clash in what is a key clash in the battle for the top seed in the East. 

Boston are +150 to win the game in the Money Line and the Bucks can be backed at -170. The schedule begins in New York as the Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers renew one of the biggest rivalries in basketball. 

The second game sees LeBron James and Luca Doncic face off as Los Angeles Lakers head to Dallas Mavericks, the Bucks then face the Celtics in Boston. 

We’re treated to a repeat of one of the best Western Conference playoff series from last year as champions Golden State Warriors take on the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies and the day concludes with a game between two championship contenders in the West as Denver Nuggets host Phoenix Suns. 

Given how these games are selected, it should come as no surprise that there have been some absolute classics over the years and we’ve had a run through of some of the very best Christmas Day games in the history of the NBA.

2004 – Miami Heat 104, Los Angeles Lakers 102 (after overtime) 

The showdown between former teammates Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in 2004 changed the game when it came to Christmas Day basketball. 

The duo helped the Lakers win three championships in eight seasons together before the Shaq’s trade request was accepted after a breakdown in their relationship and he departed for Miami. 

The pregame hype was incredible and the game itself didn’t disappoint. Bryant scored 42 points but it wasn’t enough as double-doubles from Shaq (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Dwayne Wade (29 points, 10 assists) saw the Heat edge the Lakers after overtime.

2008 – Los Angeles Lakers 92, Boston Celtics 83 

The Celtics beat the Lakers 4-2 in the 2008 Finals Series and the teams met for the first time the following season on Christmas Day. 

Boston were on a 19-game winning streak and they looked unstoppable, but Bryant put up 27 points to help guide the Lakers to an impressive win. 

This meeting proved a bit of a turning point in the season for both teams as Boston won just two of their next eight games and ultimately they fell in the conference semifinals, while the Lakers went on to win the championship.

1994 – Chicago Bulls 107, New York Knicks 104 (after overtime) 

Chicago Bulls dominated the Knicks in the early 90s during the Michael Jordan era, but the Knicks ended the Bulls’ bid for a fourth straight championship in the 94 playoffs after Jordan’s shock retirement. 

The Jordan-less Bulls met the Knicks again on Christmas Day and Scottie Pippen managed to take some revenge – scoring 36 points with 15 rebounds.

1995 – Orlando Magic 92, Houston Rockets 90 

In 1995, NBA fans were treated to a first ever Finals Series rematch on Christmas Day as champions Houston Rockets faced the team they had beaten to claim the top prize in the previous campaign. 

Since 1995, the defending champions have always played on Christmas Day but the game isn’t always a Finals rematch. 

The game was billed as a showdown between Orlando’s Shaq and Houston star Hakeem Olajuwon. Olajuwon won that personal fight with 30 points to Shaq’s 22, but the day belonged to Penny Hardaway as he hit the game-winning shot in the dying seconds.

2019 – Los Angeles Clippers 111, Los Angeles Lakers 106 

LeBron James has been involved in some incredible Christmas Day games over the course of his career and in 2019 he ended up on the losing side in a game billed as the ‘Battle for LA’. 

Anthony Davis had joined LeBron with the Lakers and the Clippers has their own superstar duo in the shape of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. 

Leonard edged his fight with LeBron on the day, scoring 35 points with 12 rebounds and five assists. James came close to a triple-double with 23 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists but he ended up having the last laugh regardless. 

The two LA sides were expected to meet in the Western Conference Finals but the Clippers were stunned by Denver in the semifinals, blowing a 3-1 series lead, and the Lakers went on to win the championship.

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