Almanac Basketball: The Five NBA Games of Christmas


While some were watching cricket or yacht racing on Boxing Day, fans of US sport had the moveable feast. Five NBA games were run and won on Christmas day (US time), starting around 4:00am Boxing Day AEST. My respect to your powers of endurance if you did all five (I recorded and watched over 3 days. Soft.).

The NBA has been playing games at Christmas since 1947. The stars play on Christmas day. There are no permanent fixtures. The NBA and the networks meet at the end of each season to plan a schedule of Christmas games for the upcoming season. In most cases last years finalists (in this case, Golden State and Cleveland) are booked in for a re-match, otherwise the NBA tries to showcase the best players against the best players.

Not every player is a fan of playing. LeBron is on record saying he’d prefer to be home with family, Tim Duncan was straightforward, “I hate playing on Christmas, but that’s just me… it is what it is”. On the other hand, the Warriors’ Draymond Green said on ESPN radio, “If you play on Christmas day, it means people want to see you play…we don’t take that honour lightly,” while New Orleans’ Anthony Davis was overjoyed, “I really wanted to play on Christmas one day and then the schedule this year… ‘Pelicans, you got the Heat’. I was like, ‘What, we got a Christmas game?”

Special jerseys are worn for the day and the stadiums are rocking with fun-loving fans. ESPN reported that Golden State and Cleveland drew nearly 11 million TV viewers. The feel of it is ‘best day of the season’ and a preview of what is to come, in June.

In the results, Golden State edged Cleveland again, 89-83, led by an explosive 10-point and 6 rebound first quarter from Draymond Green – first time he’d ever done it in any quarter of his career. There were nervous moments for Warriors fans when Steph Curry went off for calf treatment, but he returned untroubled. Into the 4th quarter, the Golden State defence was outstanding. Lebron was blocked twice, coinciding with a bad day at the free throw line. The defending champions continued their remarkable 28-1 season. The all-time season record of 72-10 (held by the 1995-6 Jordan led Bulls) is achievable. In his post-match interview, Green suggested they had another gear to go to and Curry is leading the way in this respect. The reigning MVP has increased his scoring average by more than 7-points a game.

In other games, Houston snapped a 7-straight stretch for San Antonio with an 88-84 win. The Spurs made too many mistakes and turnovers, resulting in another loss on the road.

Kobe Bryant, who has played on more Christmases than anyone – 16 of them – continued his farewell tour as the Lakers took on the Clippers. Kobe found his rhythm in the second quarter, with a couple of 3’s and would finish with 12 points in his 26 minutes (sitting out the entire 4th quarter). However, the Clippers dominated the match, leading by as much as 28 in the 3rd, before cruising to a 94-84 win.

The Chicago Bulls spent Christmas in Oklahoma. Jimmy Butler was lively with 23 points for the Bulls and Rose had 19, while Kevin Durant worked tirelessly for OKC with 29 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. The Bulls led as much as 18, before the Thunder clawed that back to 6, but wouldn’t get any closer. Chicago 105, Oklahoma City 96. The Bulls continuing their good record against Western Conference teams. On that performance, should be back in the playoffs.

In Miami, it was the Heat against New Orleans. Pelican, Anthony Davis delivered on his Christmas spirit to become the first player this season to score 20 points and have 10 rebounds in a first half. However, Chris Bosh hit back with urgency in the second; 21 of his 30 points and 10 rebounds came after half time. This one went to overtime and Miami won it 94-88.

A great Christmas / Boxing Day’s basketball had me thinking the AFL could take a look at this. ‘Best of’ scheduling could equally be applied to AFL key dates. Nobody should get a permanent game. The ‘best two teams’ should play at 2:30pm at the MCG on Anzac Day, or any other day deemed a special occasion. I’m not advocating Hawthorn – unless the Hawks are one of the best, in which case it absolutely should be Hawthorn. Anthony Davis’ joy at playing on the big day is what the AFL should want – prestige – and it would flow onward to supporters, like an early final.

Assuming (like the NBA), more than one game is scheduled on the date, the touchstone for other games should be ‘recent and meaningful team rivalries’ (not stagnant old ones). In contrast to the NBA (where only 5 on court), I’d be cautious of ‘player match ups we’d like to see’. The risk, in AFL, is that if one or both stars fail to sparkle, so goes the match. For this reason, focus ought to be on team chemistries, rather than ‘Danger’s’ first reunion against the Crows.

From here, it’s a slippery slope to a Good Friday debate I did not set out to slide (and it is likely well ventilated on the Almanac). Good Friday’s solemn religious observance is manifestly different from Christmas. My position has always been, ‘I can do without a game’, but in any event times and attitudes are changing.

Time with family at home, reflection and engagement with doctrine (or not) and sport later in the day; can a religious holiday offer freedom for all of these?

One Archbishop seems to think so. In America, Major League Baseball has previously been played on Good Friday. In 2012, 18 teams played MLB games on Good Friday with 8 hosting their home ‘opening day’ games.

“Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee took a good-humored approach to the home opener… for his city’s Brewers. The first pitch is scheduled for 3:10, and Listecki reminded Catholics to attend a church service before the game and to follow Good Friday rules by abstaining from eating meat and poultry at the ballpark.
“As much as we love the Brewers, unlike Jesus, they didn’t die for your sins,” the bishop said in a statement. “With regard to beer and brats on Good Friday: let’s just say that’s why God created the three-game series.” (1)

I can still do without a game.

However, I do think the AFL could follow the NBA’s lead, delivering a suite of best games on one day, ideally when families are on recess; the best on show for more to see – early finals, early Christmas present.




(1) Burke.D, “Major League Baseball’s Opening Day Coincides With Good Friday, Passover”, The Huffington Post 5/4/2012.

About Paul Campbell

Lawyer, left footer. Loves the Hawks and follows a few U.S sports.

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