This is the definitive list of the five greatest performances on Christmas Day in NBA history. We watched thousands of hours of tape, spoke to NBA legends, used a very complicated algorithm, and consulted with the basketball gods.
Man, we didn’t do any of that. We just wanted to get y’all riled up on this beautiful Christmas Day in the year of our Lord 2021.
#5. Kyrie Irving – 2018
This was a sublime Kyrie performance. The Philadelphia 76ers were playing in their first game since acquiring Jimmy Butler, and they traveled to Boston to play Kyrie and the Celtics on Christmas.
With 20 seconds left, Irving hit a shot to send the game to overtime, where the Celtics went on to win 121-114.
Irving ended the game with 40 points on 17-for-33 shooting, including 5-for-10 from three, plus 10 rebounds and three assists. He was +19 for the game.
#4. Kevin Durant – 2010
In the season prior, the Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers to six games in their first trip to the playoffs. It prompted Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant after clinching the series to say, “Those are some bad motherf******!”
The those he was referring to were young Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. At the end of the 2010-2011 season, the Thunder tasted real playoff success, advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
A highlight of that season’s run was the Christmas Day game against the Denver Nuggets, where Kevin Durant went off. He scored 21 of his 44 points in the third quarter just to give the Thunder a small lead heading into the fourth.
He finished with 44 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks in a 114-106 victory. KD was 14-20 from the floor, including 4-7 from three, and 12-15 from the line.
That boy good.
#3. Tracy McGrady – 2003
Man, this one was epic! Tracy McGrady and the Orlando Magic faced off against the Cleveland Cavaliers and this much-heralded rookie, who — like T-Mac — entered the league straight out of high school, LeBron James.
It was a back-and-forth affair, with the Magic prevailing in overtime 113-101. McGrady and a rookie Bron went bucket for bucket, with the elder statesman edging the rookie and having a better overall floor game.
McGrady finished with 41 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, and three steals in 49 minutes. T-Mac was 15-for-29, including 5-for-9 from three. LeBron scored 34 points on 13-for-28 shooting, but he had eight turnovers.
#2. Scottie Pippen – 1994
This was the second season for the Chicago Bulls with Scottie Pippen as the main man, though Michael Jordan came back later that season after his baseball sabbatical.
A Christmas Day showdown with their hated rivals the New York Knicks. In the previous season’s playoff series, the Knicks finally defeated their nemesis. That was the series with all the drama.
Pippen sat the last 1.8 seconds of Game 3 because the last shot wasn’t drawn up for him. Pippen had that famous dunk over Ewing in game six. Referees Hue Hollins and Dick Bavetta had some questionable calls in big moments.
That Christmas game in ’94 was a chance for Pippen to exorcise some demons and get the Bulls back on track. He was the two-way force that earned him seven All-NBA selections and 10 All-Defensive Team selections in that game.
Pippen played 53 minutes, scored 36 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, five steals and two blocks in a 107-104 overtime win for the Bulls.
#1. LeBron James – 2011
Revenge is the theme yet again in this one.
This was a lockout-shortened season that began on Christmas Day in 2011. In the previous season the Miami Heat and the big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh advanced to the finals. They lost to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.
Bron had a meltdown in the end of that series and all the questions about his mental fortitude and ability to win the big one were running rampant.
The Mavericks received their championship rings before the game and Bron and the Heat destroyed them after that. It was personal for Bron. He heard all the noise and wanted to make a declarative statement.
He finished the game with 37 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. He was a game high +27.
Oh, he and the Heat went on to win the championship that season.
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