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Most memorable Christmas Day moments in the NBA

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks during the second half

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And this Christmas, the star power will be on full display in the NBA.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis are among the superstars who will be lacing ’em up as part of a five-game holiday slate on Dec. 25 featuring Celtics vs. Raptors, Bucks vs. 76ers, Rockets vs. Warriors, Clippers vs. Lakers, and Pelicans vs. Nuggets.

If previous years are any indication, any of the aforementioned players could be next in line to add their names to the list of these most memorable Christmas Day moments. 

Cavaliers’ Christmas miracle, 2016 

This matchup wasn’t lacking for story lines or prominent players. Less than six months prior, the Cavaliers and Warriors met in the NBA Finals, which saw Cleveland overcome a 3-1 deficit to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in seven games against a squad that won a record 73 games during the regular season. This Christmas Day showdown would mark the first meeting between the teams since their Finals affair, and it more than lived up to the hype. The host Cavs found themselves trailing by 14 points early in the fourth quarter only to mount a comeback. Kyrie Irving’s turnaround jumper over Klay Thompson with 3.4 seconds remaining gave Cleveland a victory in the rubber match. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 36 points but failed to get a potential game-winning shot off for Golden State on the other end before the buzzer sounded.

A triple-double for LeBron, 2010

It was a memorable Christmas for LeBron James and a forgettable one for Kobe Bryant. James, playing in his first Christmas Day affair as a member of the Heat, notched his third triple-double of the season with 27 points (including five 3-pointers), 11 rebounds, and 10 assists as Miami coasted to the double-digit victory. His output was more than enough to outduel Bryant, who was held to just 17 points in defeat as the Lakers dropped their second straight holiday game to James, having fallen to the LeBron-led Cavs a year earlier. This win over the Lakers was a sign of success to come for the Heat, whose Big 3 of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh would go on to advance to the Finals in their first year as teammates.

Phil nabs 1,000th win, 2008

Phil Jackson will go down as one of the winningest coaches of all time. On this holiday, he made some history while spoiling the Celtics’ red-hot streak in what was a rematch of the previous season’s Finals. Bryant scored 27 points and Pau Gasol added 20 as the Lakers helped Jackson capture his 1,000th victory, becoming the fastest coach in league history to reach the milestone (he currently ranks seventh among all coaches with 1,155 victories). The win over the Celtics was even sweeter given that Boston was riding a 19-game winning streak coming into the showdown. Kevin Garnett paced the defending champs with 22 points, but the Celtics were unable to overcome a 16-point fourth quarter in the losing effort against their cross-country rivals.

Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Miami Heat shows his back to Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers

(Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Shaq & Kobe square off, 2004

One would be hard-pressed to find a more dominant duo than Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal during their days as teammates in Los Angeles. Together, the pair guided the Lakers to three straight NBA titles beginning in 2000. Even if they were hardly the best of friends, they were civil enough to work together in putting their mark on history. Their relationship officially went south when Shaq was traded to Miami prior to the 2004 campaign. So when the Heat visited the Lakers on Christmas Day of that year, all eyes were on the two superstars meeting for the first time as opponents. Despite 42 points by Bryant, and Shaq fouling out late in the fourth quarter, the Heat held on in overtime to extend their winning streak to 11 games. While the duo downplayed any rift between themselves in postgame interviews, Shaq walked away with bragging rights.

Blazers’ redemption, 2000

The conclusion of the 1999 season was a bitter one for the Trail Blazers. On the brink of advancing to the Finals, Portland suffered an epic collapse at the hands of the Lakers, getting outscored 31-13 in the fourth quarter of an eventual five-point loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. While it didn’t come close to making up for that setback, the Blazers played the role of spoiler in their ensuing meeting with the Lakers on Christmas Day. It was Portland making the comeback this time around. Paced by Rasheed Wallace’s 33 points and Damon Stoudamire’s 27 points, the Blazers overcame a huge outing by Shaq (32 points, 15 rebounds) to take out the defending champs.

Penny calls game, 1995 

Long before he took over as head coach of his alma mater at Memphis, Penny Hardaway was a four-time All-Star as a member of the Magic. In a matchup that pitted two of the league’s top big men against each other, it was the point guard who played the role of hero. Hardaway scored 22 points in the game, none bigger than his jumper with three seconds remaining to give Orlando the lead for good in the 92-90 affair. Hardaway received plenty of support from Shaq, who finished with 22 points and 18 rebounds in a head-to-head battle with Hakeem Olajuwon, who nearly carried Houston to victory with 30 points and 12 rebounds. The thriller stands as the first Christmas Day rematch of the previous season’s Finals.

Pip, Pip, hooray, 1994

One of the handfuls of rivalries that encompassed the no-holds-barred style of the ’80s and ’90s was that of the Bulls against the Knicks. The teams combined for more than their share of epic battles during those days, so it was little surprise that this Christmas edition did not disappoint. A season after the Knicks finally found a way to get past the Bulls in the Eastern Conference to make the Finals, Scottie Pippen made sure to restore holiday order. The Bulls’ star scored all seven of his squad’s points in overtime to finish with 36 for the game, along with grabbing 16 rebounds, to carry Chicago to the 107-104 victory. It was enough to outpace Knicks center Patrick Ewing, who had 30 points and 16 rebounds in a game that saw teammate John Starks get ejected.

New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing (C) holds back Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan

(VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty Images)

Ewing saves the day, 1986

Remember when we were just discussing the Bulls-Knicks rivalry? Well, look which teams again turn up on this list. Nearly a decade before Pippen’s heroics led the Bulls to a win on Christmas Day, it was instead Ewing getting the last laugh. Trailing by 1 point on the final possession, Ewing nailed a buzzer-beating basket as part of his 28 points and 17 rebounds to carry New York to victory over Michael Jordan and co. For Jordan, it was far from his most efficient game. He scored 30 points but was just 10 of 28 from the floor. It stung even more for the Bulls, who dropped below .500 on the season with the loss.

King earns his crown, 1984

Bernard King was known for his ability to score with the best of them during his 14-year career. It was no more on display than during the 1984-85 campaign, especially on Dec. 25. King put on a scoring clinic for the Knicks, racking up 60 points in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd to establish an NBA record for most points on the holiday. It’s best that the game be remembered for King’s history-making performance rather than the fact that the Knicks still suffered a 120-114 loss to the New Jersey Nets in the process. King’s scoring ways didn’t slow down either, as he went on to lead the league that season in averaging 32.9 ppg despite New York finishing at the bottom of their division. 

Unstoppable Wilt, 1961

It’s little surprise that one of the game’s most dominant big men of all time put together an all-time dominant Christmas Day performance. Wilt Chamberlain was a one-man wrecking crew for the Philadelphia Warriors in this one, scoring 59 points and grabbing 36 rebounds. The points established a record that would stand for 23 years before King bested him, while the rebounds are a record that have withstood the test of time. While the game didn’t result in a victory for the Warriors, who fell 136-135 in double overtime to the Knicks, it produced an outing from Chamberlain that was as good as any Christmas gift could offer.