Christmas serves as the marquee day of the NBA schedule every year.
With all of the league’s best teams and brightest stars on display, the slate always delivers for NBA fans looking to gather around the television on the holiday.
To get ready for this year’s action-packed slate, take a look at the best NBA Christmas Day games of all time.
1961: Wilt’s monster game comes up short
New York Knicks 136, Philadelphia Warriors 135 (2OT)
Knicks: Richie Guerin – 40 points (15-28 FG, 10-13 FT), 10 rebounds, six assists
Warriors: Wilt Chamberlain – 59 points (23-44 FG, 13-22 FT), 36 rebounds
Chamberlain’s 59 points and 36 rebounds was somehow not enough to come away with the victory for the Philadelphia Warriors. His 36 boards are an NBA record on Christmas Day and it’s likely it remains the record for a long, long time. His 59 points stood as the Christmas Day record for 23 years before Bernard King’s 60-point outing in 1984.
1972: Tiny’s assist record
Milwaukee Bucks 104, Kansas City-Omaha Kings 99
Bucks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 32 points (14-20 FG), 13 rebounds, two assists
Kings: Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald – 20 points (7-16 FG), 18 assists, one rebound
Archibald dished out more presents than Santa Claus himself on Christmas Day in 1972. His 18 assists is an NBA record on the holiday and it’s no surprise Tiny pulled that off with the season he had in ’72. That year, he became the first player in league history to lead the NBA in both scoring and assists.
1984: King’s scoring record not enough
New Jersey Nets 120, New York Knicks 114
Nets: Michael Ray Richardson – 36 points (10-22 FG, 16-17 FT), five rebounds, four assists, four steals
Knicks: Bernard King – 60 points (19-30 FG, 22-26 FT), seven rebounds, four assists
King’s 60 points is the greatest individual scoring performance on Christmas Day in NBA history. The Knicks failed to pick up the win, but King cemented himself in history with his efforts. He is one of three players to have ever surpassed the 50-point mark on the holiday, joining Wilt Chamberlain (59 points in 1961) and Rick Barry (50 points in 1966).
1985: Ewing leads Knicks’ comeback over Celtics
New York Knicks 113, Boston Celtics 104 (2OT)
Knicks: Patrick Ewing – 32 points (13-24 FG), 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block
Celtics: Kevin McHale – 29 points (7-21 FG, 15-19 FT), 14 rebounds, three blocks, two assists, one steal
Ewing made his impact felt even as a rookie on Christmas Day in 1985. His 32-point, 11-rebound double-double played a major role in the Knicks’ come-from-behind win over the Celtics in the Rookie of the Year’s Christmas debut. New York may have gotten the best of Boston in that game, but the Celtics went on to win the NBA Finals later that season.
1986: Ewing’s buzzer-beater to beat Jordan
New York Knicks 86, Chicago Bulls 85
Knicks: Patrick Ewing – 28 points (13-29 FG), 17 rebounds, two blocks, one assist
Bulls: Michael Jordan – 30 points (10-18 FG, 10-12 FT), six steals, five assists, three rebounds, two blocks
Ewing shined on Christmas Day again a year after leading the comeback versus the Celtics. This time, he spoiled Michael Jordan’s Christmas debut with a put-back at the buzzer to defeat the Bulls. When Trent Tucker’s missed 3-pointer came off of the rim, it was tipped around before Ewing corralled the rebound in mid-air and floated a shot in as time expired.
1994: Workhorse Pippen
Chicago Bulls 107, New York Knicks 104 (OT)
Bulls: Scottie Pippen – 36 points (11-28 FG, 3 3PM, 11-17 FT), 16 rebounds, five steals, three assists, two blocks
Knicks: Patrick Ewing – 30 points (10-19 FG, 10-12 FT), 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals, one block
With Michael Jordan in retirement, Pippen was absolutely amazing in this one. He played all 53 minutes in the contest en route to his stat line that filled the entire box score. As if playing every minute of the game wasn’t enough, he scored all seven of the Bulls’ points in overtime and came up with two clutch blocks on last-second shot attempts to will Chicago to victory.
1995: First ever Christmas Day Finals rematch
Orlando Magic 92, Houston Rockets 90
Magic: Shaquille O’Neal – 22 points (10-15 FG), 18 rebounds, five assists, one block
Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon – 30 points (12-26 FG), 12 rebounds, six assists, one block
For the first time in NBA history the two teams that met in the NBA Finals the previous season faced off on Christmas. Shaq and Hakeem battled it out in this contest but it was Penny Hardaway who stepped up huge for the Magic at the end. Hardaway knocked down a game-winning shot with three seconds remaining to get revenge on the defending NBA Champion Rockets.
2003: T-Mac’s 41 points tops LeBron
Orlando Magic 113, Cleveland Cavaliers 101 (OT)
Magic: Tracy McGrady – 41 points (15-29 FG, 5-9 3PT), 11 assists, eight rebounds, three steals, one block
Cavaliers: LeBron James – 34 points (13-28 FG, 4-10 3PT), six assists, two rebounds, two steals, one block
LeBron was terrific in his NBA Christmas debut and he wasn’t even the top storyline of the game. T-Mac, who averaged an NBA-best 43.3 points on Christmas Day, lit up James and the Cavaliers for 41 points to pull off the win in overtime and spoil LeBron’s first Christmas outing. This performance came just one year after McGrady dropped 46 on the Pistons on Christmas in 2002. McGrady went on to lead the league in scoring in the 2003 season, averaging 32.1 points per game.
2004: Miami Heat Shaq vs. Kobe
Miami Heat 104, Los Angeles Lakers 102 (OT)
Heat: Shaquille O’Neal – 24 points (11-19 FG), 11 rebounds, three blocks, three assists
Lakers: Kobe Bryant – 42 points (12-30 FG, 5-13 3PT, 13-13 FT), six assists, three rebounds, one steal
After eight seasons and three NBA titles as teammates Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant faced off on Christmas day after Shaq’s trade request was fulfilled, sending him to the Miami Heat. The hyped matchup between two former teammates did not disappoint as the Heat slipped past the Lakers by two points in overtime. Kobe had a game-high 42 points, but Shaq (24p, 11r) and Dwyane Wade (29p, 10a) both recorded double-doubles to overcome Bryant’s big scoring night.
2008: Lakers defeat Celtics in Finals rematch
Los Angeles Lakers 92, Boston Celtics 83
Lakers: Kobe Bryant – 27 points (13-23 FG, 1-3 3PT), nine rebounds, five assists, one steal
Celtics: Kevin Garnett – 22 points (11-14 FG), nine rebounds, two assists, one block, one steal
In their first meeting since the Celtics defeated the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, L.A. got their revenge by snapping Boston’s 19-game winning streak on Christmas Day. Kobe led the way with 27 points for the Lakers and the C’s could not overcome Ray Allen’s rough shooting performance going 3-for-11 from beyond the arc. This game marked Lakers’ head coach Phil Jackson’s 1000th win, becoming the fastest coach to reach that milestone. L.A. got the best of the Celtics in both meetings that season and their Finals rematch was spoiled by the Celtics falling to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The Lakers went on to win that season’s NBA Finals.
2010: LeBron’s triple-double vs. Lakers
Miami Heat 96, Los Angeles Lakers 80
Heat: LeBron James – 27 points (8-14 FG, 5-6 3PT, 6-6 FT), 11 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals
Lakers: Kobe Bryant – 17 points (6-16 FG, 1-3 3PT), seven assists, six rebounds, one steal
In a season filled with high expectations and a ton of pressure, LeBron put on a show in his first Christmas Day game with the Heat. His 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 steals was good enough to give Miami a comfortable win over Bryant and the Lakers while joining Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek and Billy Cunningham as the only players in NBA history to record a triple-double on Christmas Day. Russell Westbrook (2013) and Draymond Green (2017) both eventually would join that short list of players to accomplish that feat.
2016: Kyrie’s game-winner vs. Warriors
Cleveland Cavaliers 109, Golden State Warriors 108
Cavaliers: LeBron James – 31 points (12-22 FG, 4-8 3PT), 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals, one block
Warriors: Kevin Durant – 36 points (11-23 FG, 2 3PM, 12-12 FT), 15 rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block
The Cavaliers defeated the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals to spoil their historical 73-9 season. Golden State signed Kevin Durant that offseason adding the world’s best scorer to an already loaded team. The Warriors went into the fourth quarter riding a comfortable 14-point lead before Cleveland made their push. Kyrie Irving, who hit the game-sealing 3-pointer in the 2016 Finals, stepped up in the moment again scoring 14 of his 25 points in the fourth including another game-winning shot with 3.4 seconds on the clock. LeBron led the way with a team-high 31 points as the Cavs spoiled Durant’s 36-point outing in his first Christmas Day game with Golden State.
2018: Kyrie lights up 76ers in overtime win
Boston Celtics 121, Philadelphia 76ers 114 (OT)
Celtics: Kyrie Irving – 40 points (17-33 FG, 5-10 3PT), 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal
76ers: Joel Embiid – 34 points (10-17 FG, 2-4 3PT, 12-12 FT), 16 rebounds, two assists, two blocks
The Celtics and 76ers had found the newest form of their historic franchise rivalry when Boston defeated Philadelphia in five games in the 2018 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. They went on to defeat the 76ers on the opening night of the 2018-19 season then had to wait until Christmas Day to face off again. During the time between those two games, Philly had acquired All-Star guard Jimmy Butler in hopes to make a push to compete for a title. In their first meeting with Butler as a member of the 76ers, it took a scoring explosion from Irving to take down their Eastern Conference foe. Irving buried a game-tying shot over Butler to send the game into OT, then knocked down a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the overtime period to give the Celtics the victory.
2019: Kawhi and LeBron duel it out
LA Clippers 111, Los Angeles Lakers 106
Clippers: Kawhi Leonard – 35 points (11-19 FG, 5-7 3PT), 12 rebounds, five assists
Lakers: LeBron James – 23 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists.
Deemed “The Battle for LA” after Leonard and Paul George joined forces on the Clippers and Anthony Davis teamed up with James on the Lakers, this Christmas Day game at the STAPLES Center had all the star power you’re looking for on the NBA’s marquee day.
A “battle” ended up being the perfect term for it, as Leonard and James went back and forth, seemingly trying to make a statement about who the best player in the NBA was at the time. Kawhi was unstoppable, going for 35 points to edge out a near-triple-double effort from James, making everyone believe the Clippers were real title contenders that season.
After this matchup, a Western Conference Finals meeting seemed inevitable for these two teams, but the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead in the Conference Semifinals and the Lakers would eventually go on to win the NBA championship.