The NBA isn’t like other professional sports in America; they play on Christmas. Not only do they play, but the games on the national holiday signal a focal point for most NBA observers and a day when it’s finally appropriate to take stock of the first quarter of the NBA season. With Christmas approaching this week, we thought it would make sense to count down the 10 biggest Christmas Day moments in NBA history, culminating in our top two choices on Christmas Eve 2014.
We’ll have numbers 10-8 on our list today, then 7-5 tomorrow, 4-3 on Tuesday and the top two Christmas Day moments will be revealed on Christmas Eve 2014.
Russell Westbrook‘s triple-double in Oklahoma City Thunder’s blowout of the Knicks in 2013; Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony each dropping 34 in Lakers win over Knicks and the Big 3 beating OKC during the Finals rematch despite Kevin Durant‘s game-high 33 points in 2012; Kobe and Pau Gasol lose to Big 3 as LeBron James records triple-double in his first year with the Heat (2010); Dennis Rodman leads the defending champion Bulls past his old Pistons team with 11 points, 22 rebounds and seven assists in 1997.
10. Elgin Baylor’s 40 points beats Oscar Robertson’s 40 in 1961 Game between Lakers and Royals & Bill Russell’s last Christmas Day Game in 1967 win over Knicks
Because no YouTube existed in the 1960s, it’s easy for basketball fans to forget about how great the players were in the NBA’s infancy. That’s why we’re giving a few of them some DAP at the top of our list.
In a 1961 game between Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals and Elgin Baylor’s Los Angeles Lakers, the two stars each scored 40 points on Christmas Day.
Robertson’s Royals would lose to Baylor’s Lakers, 141-127, but the game showcased three of the NBA’s brightest stars in Baylor, Robertson and a second-year point guard named Jerry West, who would finish with 31 points of his own on the day.
That same year, Robertson would average 30.8 points, 12.4 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game, the only time a player has averaged a triple-double during an NBA season.
Baylor, meanwhile, was at the height of his powers in his fourth year with the team. Only after suffering a horrendus knee injury in the 1965 playoffs would his game get grounded. At this point, he was becoming the original skywalker before Dr. J, Michael Jordan and Vince Carter inherited the mantle.
Six years later, Bill Russell would be playing in his last Christmas Day Game when his Celtics beat the New York Knicks, 134-124.
It was Russell’s second to last season, and it came after he and the Celtics had failed to win a title the year before — Russell’s first as player coach. He would get the win, obviously, extending his Christmas Day record to 6-2 all time with his only two defeats coming in his first two years with the green and white. He would also avenge his loss to Wilt Chamberlain in the playoffs the year before — the only time he lost to Chamberlain in the playoffs. As player coach Russell defeated Chamberlain’s defending champion 76ers team 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals and then beat the Lakers again in the Finals 4-2. The next season, Russell’s last, he would defeat Chamberlain one more time, this time in the NBA Finals after Wilt had made the jump to Jerry West and Elgin Baylor’s Lakers team.
9. The Miami Heat blow out the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in a rematch of 2011 NBA Finals on NBA Opening Day.
During Christmas Day 2011, the NBA season wasn’t entered the teeth of the regular season, it was just tipping off for the first time. The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement had been a knock down drag it out affair, with the owners wrangling a much higher percentage of the Basketball-Related Income (BRI) from the players. Finally, though, the NBA tipped off with a quintuple-header on Christmas Day.
The biggest draw of the night was a rematch of the 2011 NBA Finals. During the 2011 Finals, the Dallas Mavericks shocked the favored Miami Heat by defeating them 4-2 with Dallas’ last win coming on the road in Miami. It clinched their first title as a franchise and spoiled the potential opening bell of a Heat dynasty.
The Heat’s Big 3, specifically LeBron James, were amped to get going in their second year together, and that was evident during the 105-94 Heat romp that wasn’t even as close as that final score. LeBron had 37 points on 11-of-19 shooting, and Dwyane Wade added 26 more as the Heat jumped on a Mavs team — who seemed to be still hungover from their championship win in June — for a 32-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Heat would go on to capture their first NBA Title that year by defeating Kevin Durant and the Thunder in the Finals, but it all started with that opening night win on Christmas Day against the team who foiled their Finals plans in Year 1 of the Big 3 experiment in Miami.
8. Kobe Bryant has his vengeance in 2008 Finals rematch.
Similarly, the 2008 Christmas Day game between the Celtics and Lakers was a rematch of that summer’s Celtics evisceration of the Lakers in the NBA Finals 4-2. LA’s gruesome, 131-92 Game 6 loss to the Celtics in the new Garden was the first — and only — title that Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen won as a trio in Boston.
The next year, Mamba had his revenge on Christmas, handing the Celtics just their third loss of the season — they came into the game with a 27-2 record. But Bryant’s 27 points on 13-for-23 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists led the Lakers to a 92-83 win.
Kobe and the Lakers would capture their first post-Shaq title later that season after defeating the surprising Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals 4-1.
What are your favorite Christmas Day moments?
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